BARGAINING: Guild members tell AP health insurance hikes would be disastrous

News Media Guild members in Washington, D.C., told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the company’s proposal to hike health insurance costs would amount to a major pay cut that could be financially ruinous or drive workers to seek employment elsewhere.

Also Wednesday, the Guild and the AP reached tentative agreements on a proposal that substantially expands the length of paid parental leave, as well as new contract language that lets employees use sick days to care for ill family members _ including dependent children, spouses and parents. Both sides also signed tentative agreements to leave several sections of the contract unchanged, including the Expenses article that lays out the guild mileage minimums and the weekly allowance paid to photographers and videographers who use their own cars.

The Guild’s bargainers were joined at the table by several Washington-based staffers, who decried the AP proposal to increase employee contributions to premiums by more than 50 percent, increase deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums and make changes to the prescription drug coverage.

Medical writer Lauran Neergaard said employees have already paid heavily in recent years after the AP restricted health insurance coverage for spouses.

”I feel like we have already made our sacrifice,” she said. “We are paying more in premiums for less in health care.”

Other members who shared their concerns with company included science writer Seth Borenstein, economics writer Chris Rugaber, health writer Matthew Perrone, video journalist Ned Barker, data journalist Michelle Minkoff, radio reporter Ed Donahue, and editor Michele Salcedo, who is serving as the Guild’s chief mobilizer during negotiations.

The Guild expects to forward a health insurance counter proposal when both sides resume negotiations the first week of December.

Under the parental leave policy, mothers and fathers will receive four weeks of paid parental leave to be taken within 12 months of the birth or adoption of a child. Employees will also be able to use their 12 sick days and vacation days on top of that if they choose to do so. Women who give birth will also receive 8 weeks paid of short-term disability in addition to the 4 weeks of paid parental leave.

Now, employees get one week of paid parental leave and are unable to use sick days during parental leave.

Other tentative agreements reached Wednesday include leaving the following articles of the contract unchanged: Expenses, Normal Work, Holidays and General Wage Provisions (which deals with employee experience credit; pay increases are a separate article). Both sides also reached tentative agreements on Sick Leave and Vacations, which remains unchanged except for a provision that says employees must use 14 days of carried-over vacation time each year, rather than the current seven.

Representing the Guild were Jill Bleed of Little Rock, Vin Cherwoo of New York Sports, technician Ed Morsett of Denver and Guild administrator Kevin Keane.

Representing the AP were Montrese Garner-Sampson, regional HR manager; Jessica Bruce, senior vice president for human resources and corporate communications; Steve Macri, AP’s attorney; Jean Maye, human resources director; and Brian Carovillano, managing editor.