MIAMI, May 1, 2013 – EFE News Services Inc. introduced a new set of economic proposals this week calling for large increases in employee out-of-pocket monthly health insurance payments and cutting its retirement contribution by 25 percent. The Guild also questioned the company’s proposal on non-discrimination language and a proposal for unlimited interns.
Wage and Benefit Cuts
The company is now insisting on steep increases in medical premiums – as much as 19% in 2013 and nearly 24% in 2014. The proposals given to the Guild are deeper than EFE’s prior proposal of a 15% reduction in medical premium costs.
That’s on top of proposals to cut staff salary by up to 9% of salary after five years of a wage freeze. Under EFE’s new proposal, the lowest paid employees would have wages frozen for two more years instead of a wage cut.
“Normally, contract negotiations are give and take,” said Tony Winton, the Guild’s chief negotiator. “With these proposals, EFE seems intent on pursuing a ‘take and take’ stance,” he said.
EFE continues to insist on the right to use an “unlimited” number of college students which the Guild says are now being used as full-time news staffers and should be treated and paid as regular employees.
The current intern program is believed to be funded by Spain’s “La Caixa” bank, one of Spain’s largest financial institutions. A bank brochure says interns receive about $396 a week as a post-graduate stipend, but EFE has refused to show the Guild the actual amounts paid. La Caixa, like many Spanish banks, is trying to deal with billions in “toxic” assets as well as stabilizing other banks it acquired and it’s a frequent subject in the news media.
EFE’s ties to Spain’s troubled banking sector seem to be increasing. In February, an EFE news report said the company had signed another news intern arrangement with Banco Santander, another major Spanish financial institution. On Tuesday, the New York Times reported that Santander CEO Alfredo Saenz resigned, a move the Times said “ends a period of uncertainty over the bank’s leadership as Saenz faced a possible ban from banking after a criminal conviction.”
During bargaining Wednesday, the Guild asked EFE about the ethics of having its news operations in the United States funded by banking institutions. The company’s ethics policy, negotiated with the Guild in 2006, specifically prohibits outside payments. The Guild asked EFE to explain how many more interns it would bring to the U.S. and how they would be paid for.
EFE refused to answer the Guild’s questions. The Guild believes that EFE should adhere to its own ethics policy and avoid creating even the appearance of a conflict of interest by having its U.S. reporting paid for by Spanish banks.
The current contract allows EFE to use one intern in each of its bureaus. The union told the company it could agree to the continuation of that arrangement as long as future interns are used properly under the law, which prohibits employers from exploiting “interns” who really operate as workers.
After years of complaints by the union that EFE discriminates against employees based on national origin, the company is now demanding its liability exposure be diminished by forcing employees to waive the potential right to sue through the courts. Employees would have to submit claims to arbitration.
When a company is found guilty of discrimination, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission can order that discriminatory policies cease and require payment of damages to affected employees that sometimes can be large. Arbitrators generally cannot order the payment of punitive damages and attorneys fees, so the company proposal would reduce the potential cost of discrimination. While the union believes arbitration can more quickly resolve many complaints, it does not agree that workers be stripped of protections under the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Overtime, Retirement Plan: Tiny Savings for EFE
The company cost saving proposals range from large to tiny.
One Employer proposal would eliminate the possibility of overtime, even if an employee worked very lengthy hours on a particular day. The employer would have the right to tell the employee to not come to work the next day. EFE claims it needs the language to avoid paying expensive overtime. However, EFE earlier said its total overtime expense between Jan. 2009 and December, 2011 was $389.52, an average of $2.50 a week.
EFE now makes a 2 percent contribution towards the participant accounts in its retirement plan. The company proposal to cut its retirement plan cost by 25 percent would save EFE another $8,023 a year or $154 a week.
Although the union told EFE it was ready to initial a number of contract articles as tentative agreements on Wednesday, EFE negotiators left the bargaining table, refusing to initial their own proposals.
Jorge A. Bañales, the Guild’s unit chair and a reporter in Washington, D.C. said, “We are perplexed at EFE’s refusal to take ‘yes’ for an answer, something that has happened in the last three sessions.”
The Guild told EFE that it was analyzing economic data provided to the union on Wednesday about the cost savings of its revised economic proposal. The Guild said it would make an economic proposal at the next bargaining session, slated for Washington D.C. The date has not been set.
The union said the data supplied to date indicates EFE has already achieved many of the cost savings outlined by EFE’s General Manager in a presentation made to the union in March.
Representing the Guild were unit chair Jorge A. Bañales and chief negotiator Tony Winton.
Representing EFE were José Manuel Sanz, EFE News Service Vice President; Laureano García, a newly named vice president of EFE News Services; José María Cernuda, manager of human resources for Agencia EFE, S.A.; and attorney Arturo Ross.