20 months later, Guild and EFE reach tentative agreement

Bargaining Bulletin #14

WASHINGTON, Aug. 2 – After 20 months of tough bargaining, Guild negotiators announced a tentative agreement with EFE News Services that provides a two-year period of unpaid furloughs, followed by the first wage increase for the company’s U.S. staff since 2008. (Read in Spanish/Artículo en Español)

Guild leadership has approved the tentative pact, which now goes to members for a ratification vote. The contract calls for all workers to take 24 unpaid furlough days over a two-year period, starting in 2014. Workers also must pay 5 percent of the cost of the current medical insurance plan.

In 2015, however, wages will go up 2 percent across the board.

“The cuts will be painful, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Jorge Bañales, a reporter in Washington, D.C., and EFE unit chair.

Guild members stand together during the bargaining,  March 12, 2013
Guild members united during the bargaining, 3/12/2013

EFE, based in Madrid, sought large payroll savings because of the ongoing economic crisis in Spain. The company, state supported but independent, is the world’s largest Spanish-language news agency.  Throughout the bargaining, the Guild, which represents U.S. workers, sought to balance the need for savings with a plan that was minimally disruptive for staffers and provided a real wage improvement after six years of wage freezes.In a major victory for employees, the agreement – for the first time – contains a non-discrimination provision that can be legally enforced through arbitration.

Guild members, who work in Washington, New York, California, and Miami, stood together during bargaining, donning red T-shirts and sharing images on social media.

“EFE staffers have a lot to be proud of in remaining united for such a long time and achieving real progress in the face of huge economic pressure,” said Martha Waggoner, NMG president. “We look forward to working with EFE to improve quality journalism in the Spanish language.”

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In other contract changes:

  • Editors and Reporters will no longer be in separate classifications. Editors will be moving up to the Reporter wage scale.
  • The Junior Reporter classification will only pay an entry-level wage for two years, instead of the previous three-year period.
  • EFE will count prior, worldwide company service in establishing vacation benefits.  Up till now, an employee who worked for EFE overseas started with vacation benefits equal to that of a new hire.
  • New language defines the use of  “interns,” who must be enrolled university students, and the usage of interns must comply with U.S. Department of Labor guidelines. EFE will be allowed two such interns per U.S. bureau. In addition, EFE will commit to recruiting half of all future interns from the United States.
  • The employer 401(k) plan contribution remains at 2% of salary.
  • The furlough cost impact will be distributed evenly over 48 consecutive pay periods, minimizing the disruption in wages for staff. Furloughs would start in January 2014 and end in December 2015.
  • New provisions address situations where natural disasters prevent safely commuting to work.
  • Training for multimedia skills is extended.
  • The grievance process has been streamlined and made more manageable to resolve workplace disputes.
  • The agreement extends 42 months, starting Jan. 1, 2012 and expiring June 30, 2016. Unlike the previous agreement, there are no re-opener provisions.

EFE workers voted to join the Guild in 2005. The News Media Guild also represents workers at The Associated Press and United Press International. It is a unit of The Newspaper Guild-Communications Workers of America, the premier union for news industry professionals.

Representing the Guild were Bañales, rank-and-file negotiator Winston Rodríguez, and Tony Winton, chief negotiator, a former NMG president.

Representing EFE were José Manuel Sanz and Laureano García, EFE News Services vice presidents, and attorney Arturo Ross.