AP makes wage, health insurance, DC proposal

Nearly five months after it presented its first proposal on eliminating the pension, the Associated Press on Wednesday gave the News Media Guild what it described as an “enhanced” proposed defined contribution plan and other economic issues. AP also offered to keep medical plan costs frozen for the life of the 33-month contract it is now proposing.

The retirement “enhancement” only changes the duration of extra payments for staffers whose pension would be frozen. AP is now offering to make the additional payments for seven years instead of the five years, on top of a base 3 percent annual contribution.

AP says the extra payment (1 percent for employees with fewer than 10 years of service, and 2 percent for employees with 10 or more years of service), is designed to compensate for the pension freeze. The “enhancement” would end after seven years. The Guild’s actuaries have said AP’s plan would cost some staffers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

AP’s retirement proposal does nothing for DC plan participants who have been hired since March 1, 2006, or opted into the plan over the pension plan. The Guild’s proposed “fixed cost” pension plan would have helped all employees. 

On other economic issues, the company wage offer remained unchanged. AP is proposing raises of 1.5 percent effective March 1, 2011; Sept. 1, 2011 and Sept. 1, 2012. The AP is proposing that the contract end Aug. 31, 2013.

 AP described its wage offer as generous compared to others in the industry.

AP said it decided to improve its economic offer after seeing AP staff’s reaction on the Internet and in videos of Guild rallies across the nation.

“We’re pleased with the offer to freeze health insurance, but the rest of the company’s offer is disappointing,” said Martha Waggoner, bargaining committee chair. “Under the company’s proposal, the pension is gone forever, but AP’s transition benefits are temporary.”

The AP said it would agree to a separate contract stating that the pension enhancements would be good for the seven years and would not be re-negotiated at the end of any new contract.

The AP emphasized the importance of reaching agreement in the next few days, saying that otherwise, the offer could change to something less. AP staffers want their pay raise in their pocketbooks now, said Michelle Ehrlich, the company’s director of labor relations.

Ehrlich also said the union had caused the company to move on its proposals in ways it hadn’t thought possible when bargaining began in mid-October.

But the Guild said it needed more time to talk about the offer with its members and develop an overall proposal.

The Guild has asked the AP for a summary of defined contribution plans that the company may sponsor for executives or salaried personnel, but the information has not been provided. The company said early that the pain of the pension freeze would be shared by all employees and the information is needed to confirm that commitment.

The negotiators are continuing to press for the information, especially in light of the AP’s dedication to Freedom of Information requests and Sunshine Week, a people’s right-to-know initiative.

The AP also rejected the Guild’s proposal for a “fair share” agency fee, which would require current union members to remain in the Guild and require any new hires to pay fair share agency shop fees or join the union. The AP said it was wrong in this economic climate to require people to pay money to the union.

 On other issues, the Guild and the AP reached these tentative agreements:

 _ in the Broadcast News Center, employees receiving a talent differential as of March 1, will have that rolled into salary, as has occurred in recent years with other differentials. 

 _ on the Technology Unit job security, which now includes many of the provisions from the Editorial Unit contract, including protections against losing your job if the AP hasn’t trained you for a new position.

 _ on advancement opportunities, the company will reimburse an employee for courses taken to advance their careers, if the course and payment are approved in advance and provided the employee completes the course or shows satisfactory progress. The two sides will set up a training committee of up to three people appointed by the Guild and up to three appointed by the AP that will meet every six months to discuss concerns.

In addition to Waggoner, those representing the Guild were: Tony Winton, John Braunreiter, Don Ryan, Vin Cherwoo and Kevin Keane.

In addition to Ehrlich, those representing the AP were: Sue Gilkey, Hilda Auguste, Alison Quan and attorney Steve Macri.

Also present was federal mediator Kathy Murray-Cannon.