AP, Guild bargainers discuss company finances

While the chief executive officer of the Associated Press is presenting an upbeat picture of finances, the company’s bargainers say News Media Guild staffers must make sacrifices in health insurance and job protections for AP to stay competitive.

Just last Wednesday, AP CEO Gary Pruitt held a town hall, telling staffers that the company is strong financially with no risk of failure or bankruptcy. Pension payments and the transformation in the media landscape were described as challenges, he said, adding that all departments performed well in 2013.

At the bargaining table Tuesday, however, AP negotiators indicated that Guild-covered staffers work only for the traditional newspaper market, which is in decline. ” … I am sure that you also heard Gary say that revenues from the traditional newspaper market, served by employees in the News Media Guild, remain in decline,” AP said. “There is no way out of it — in the interest of responsible leadership, we must continue to find additional ways to manage prudently going forward. It is the only way we can keep AP strong for our customers, for our employees and for our journalistic mission.”

At the town hall, AP said it paid off all its debt in 2013 and had $596 million in revenue with $42 million in cash profits. For 2014, the AP is budgeting $598 million in revenue and $40 million in cash profits, he said. Pension debt in 2013 was $15 million and is projected to be $27 million in 2014, although that could change based on market conditions and other issues.

U.S. operations fell short of its 2013 goal only because of the loss of a major contract, he said.

But AP said Tuesday that it must contain health claim costs and gain the flexibility it needs from its proposed news associate position. Guild staffers understand these jobs are a threat to job security because news associates would do their work at lower pay with no scheduling protections.

Although the AP said the news associate position is essential to a final deal, the company only introduced the job in March, the ninth month of bargaining.

AP said the AP’s current proposal is a financial setback for staffers who are on the company health insurance plan and threatened to withdraw the company’s wage increase proposals of 1.5 percent, 1.75 percent and 2 percent with a $500 one-time bonus payment effective Jan. 1, 2015.

“While we’ve avoided some costs because without a deal there is no wage increase, those savings do not offset those AP would realize under the proposed health plan changes,” the AP said. “As such, our proposals will likely need to be adjusted accordingly if we don’t reach agreement soon.”

NMG president Martha Waggoner said it’s unreasonable to think Guild-covered staffers will give up affordable health care and job security in exchange for the pay raises the company has offered. “Our members understand the AP’s proposals reduce our income and continue to press for a fair AP contract,” she said.