Contract negotiations kick off later today between management at the Providence Journal and the Providence Newspaper Guild, which represents news and advertising staff at the paper.
Management is expected to present a contract offer which the union will mull over in the coming days.
The guild's current, three-year deal expires December 31. And a lot has happened since that last document was inked - two waves of layoffs, the elimination of the paper's regional bureaus, a reorganization of the newsroom staff into pods covering different topics (government, crime, etc.), and the launch of the PolitiFact operation. This is a newspaper reinventing itself.
But the moves have met with little resistance by the staff. And negotiations appear set to focus on nuts-and-bolts issues: a recent survey of the rank-and-file found members pressing for the reinstatement of company contributions to 401(k) retirement plans, limits on employee contributions to health care premiums, and wage hikes, among other things.
Union officials know that, in a difficult period for the newspaper industry, they're unlikely to get everything they want. "If they're prepared to be reasonable, we're prepared to be reasonable," said John Hill, a ProJo reporter who is president of the guild.
Management-union relations have been relatively cordial since a 2003, when the two sides signed a contract after a four-year standoff over wages, benefits, and parking privileges, among other things.