Category Archives: Guild News

General news about the News Media Guild

AP provides no new information on pending cuts

The company has stonewalled News Media Guild representatives on how much it has saved to date in labor savings costs within the AP worldwide. The union received reports from members that managers have reported savings as high as 8 percent.

The company said late last year it needs to achieve a 10 percent reduction in its labor associated costs or the balance would be achieved through staff cuts.

When asked Oct. 16 how much AP has saved to date, Michelle Ehrlich, the company’s director of global labor relations, said the company has no official numbers. The company said that nothing regarding the savings has been communicated to field managers, adding the information they provide should not be trusted.

The Guild asked AP how much it has achieved in savings overseas and the non-union segment of the United States. Again, Ehrlich said she had nothing official she could share. The union asked AP if there have been reductions in staff among those groups.

The union said it was aware that the company changed its cost-of-living adjustments overseas resulting in some savings and heard that home leaves have been reduced to once every three years instead of two.

The company asked the union for specifics because it said it had no knowledge about those matters.

The Guild told AP that the company said during the bargaining that the labor-savings pain would be shared equally among Guild, overseas and administrative staff.

Guild president Tony Winton asked if there will be editorial cuts before the end of the year or will they occur in 2010? AP said it couldn’t say “for sure” if there would be cuts in 2009, although shortly after the meeting the union received reports from New York City members that some administrative positions in the Finance Department were cut that morning. The union has an active grievance claiming a large number of administrative positions in that department should be union covered. The union is seeking to confirm those reports. The union office received notice from AP that a job was cut in Cranbury, N.J., while the Guild-AP meeting was in progress.

The Guild asked the company if its relationship with its members has improved since late last year when many were threatening to end their relationships with AP while demanding cuts in rates. Ehrlich reported things are going smoothly.

Winton asked AP how it will determine the amount of work to be produced by a smaller staff. Ehrlich reported that the issue was discussed at the Lake Placid management meeting. AP will evaluate content usage to make that determination, although it said it had not developed any methodology to reduce workload where cuts take place.

The union asked for the target date to move from satellite to Internet delivery of content to members, adding the union understands video content will continue to be delivered by satellite. AP said it didn’t know but would look into it.

The union asked how the company intends to handle the work of the two New York City operators who were terminated the day before the meeting. AP again said it had no information but said it would look into it.

AP Sick Leave Policy takes effect Oct. 1

The new sick leave policy at The Associated Press takes effect on Oct. 1, 2009.  The union was able to negotiate many improvements to the company proposal, which increases sick leave for new employees but leaves long-service employees with fewer weeks.

The new plan provides employees with more than three months service and who work at least 15 hours a week with 12 sick days each Jan. 1, plus an additional short-term disability benefit dependent on length of service.

All employees will have 12 sick days through year’s end as part of the new plan’s phase-in.

Employees were troubled by AP’s insistence that a third-party administrator make decisions on what qualifies for a short-term disability benefit.  AP selected Liberty Mutual as the TPA.  In the past, those decisions were made by the company and local managers could be lenient in determining the benefit.

It’s expected that the leniency will disappear, producing some of the savings referred to in AP’s communications.  The company said Liberty Mutual will comply with privacy and non-discrimination laws and assured the union that no claim would be handled in an arbitrary or capricious manner.

Employees must complete all necessary paperwork as required by Liberty Mutual to remain eligible for the benefit.

The short-term disability will apply for absences of seven consecutive calendar days (five consecutive work days) because of illness or injuries.  Referred to during bargaining as the “doughnut hole,” absences for shorter periods could leave employees unpaid.

That would happen if an employee doesn’t have five sick days remaining out of the 12 sick days allotted to employees a year. Employees may use vacation, personal days or compensatory time off to fill that period.  Employees may also borrow up to five days of next year’s accrued vacation to get paid.

If a recurrence of the same disability occurs within 90 days of the last disability another seven-day waiting period is waived.

Under the old sick leave policy, a new hire was entitled to two weeks of sick leave during the first two years of service.  The new schedule during the first year will provide up to 12 sick days plus one week of pay at 100 percent plus 24 weeks at 60 percent pay. The second year will provide 12 days sick leave plus two weeks at full pay plus 23 weeks at 60 percent pay.

A long service employee could have received one week of full pay plus one week of half pay for each year of service.  An employee with 35 years service could have received a benefit of 35 weeks of full pay plus an equal number at half-pay.  The new benefit for employees with less than 20 years of service on Dec. 1, 2008, will cap at 25 weeks of full pay in addition to the 12 sick days.  Employees with more than 20 years of service could receive one full week of pay for each year of service so an employee with 35 years service would receive 35 weeks of full pay plus the 12 sick days.

New hires will receive one sick day a month after completion of the 90-day eligibility period.  If hired on Jan. 1, the employee will be due nine days for the year.

The company may request employees provide documentation from a health care provider when absent for three or more consecutive days.  Employees who anticipate an absence from work must inform his or her supervisor or manager at least one hour in advance of his or her start time to be eligible for sick pay unless a reasonable excuse is provided for the late notice.

Sick leave terms that were unchanged are:

–        a minimum of eight weeks of full pay for pregnancy related disability.

–        employees who produce a fraudulent health provider’s note or file a fraudulent sick leave claim can be fired without severance pay.

–        AP’s obligation to return employees to work from disability leaves of less than three years when related to an approved workers’ compensation illness or injury.

–        AP’s obligation to return employees to work from disability leaves of less than two years for any other approved medical reasons.

Job Security FAQ

Editorial Unit FAQ

Our contract’s job security terms spell out how reduction in staff will be administered.  It could involve an offer of buyouts. It could involve transfer offers to vacant positions.  When involuntary terminations are involved, seniority gets preference as long as the employee has the qualifications to perform the remaining work.

Is it true that AP must offer buyouts to employees before cutting staff?

No.  AP is not obliged to offer buyouts.  It will if its operating circumstances allow it to do so.  It will solicit volunteers in the affected classifications up to the total number it wants to reduce.  If the number of volunteers exceeds the number of buyouts offered then the most senior employees will receive them. The volunteers will have to sign a resignation agreement and a release of claims that would waive recall, re-employment and other contractual rights.

AP is done with the buyout offers.  Now what?

AP may offer employees vacant positions to minimize disruption while reducing staff.  If you accept a position in another bureau the company will pay your transfer expenses.  If you don’t want to transfer, your seniority within the bureau, correspondency or the business location (city-wide operations) will prevail if you are qualified to perform remaining work.

Buyouts and transfer offers are done.  Now what?

AP is now down to involuntarily cutting staff which it tried to avoid by offering the voluntary retirement packages, buyouts and transfers.  You need to know how “seniority,” “qualifications” and “remaining work” are defined.

What is my hire date?

Seniority means company-wide length of service since an employee’s most recent date of hire.  Your seniority date can be obtained from your manager.  The union receives employment information from AP, so you can also contact the Guild at 212-869-9290 or by e-mail at Guild@newsmediaguild.org.

Am I qualified to perform other work?

In the past, defining qualifications in the newsperson category has been contentious.  New contract terms now spell out how qualifications will be viewed.  Employees should review Section 6(d), (i) through (vi) to see which categories their experience would place them.  Do you fit into 6(d)(i) and any of the other definitions?  The company might be unaware of some experience.  If you believe your qualifications haven’t been properly considered you are urged to notify your manager promptly in writing and you should also copy the union at Guild@newsmediaguild.org.

What is meant by remaining work?

It’s the work performed by the employees who will remain employed after the staff reduction.  It does not apply only to vacancies.  Regardless of seniority, no employee has the right to displace another employee assigned to a different business location.

How do I know there is no other remaining work I might be qualified to perform?

It’s easiest when you have performed a number of job assignments while employed at AP.  You have demonstrated ability to do that work.  There may be jobs you can perform but were never trained for. The company has to offer you a four-week training period so you might qualify for that work.  The union will provide employees, upon request, a list of hire dates for the employees within their classification within the business location so all positions can be considered.

What if staffers are suddenly getting performance evaluations after going years without — or even an evaluation less than a year since the last one, after years without any?  Could this be an attempt at documentation to reduce severance by alleging poor performance, or to circumvent seniority in layoffs?

There’s always a possibility that bad motives are driving a manager’s desire to evaluate you after many years of no evaluations.  It’s urgent that you respond to any false or misleading comments in any company reprimand or evaluation.  Sitting on your hands hoping a reprimand or a bad evaluation problem will go away could leave you fighting for your job or full severance pay.

What is the definition of a bureau or a business location?

bureau includes its outpost locations such as the Pentagon and State House offices in the same business location within the same city.  A business location includes all bureau, regional desk, department and vertical positions.

I can’t perform the remaining work because AP never trained me.  Now what?

AP must provide a training opportunity to perform remaining work in your bureau, correspondency or business location.  It must provide “necessary and sufficient” training to perform the work in a “competent and proficient manner.”  AP must articulate its “reasonable expectations” regarding the available work.  The training shall provide an opportunity to acquire skills to properly operate equipment and to utilize the methods of operation in such work. The amount of training will be based on the circumstances but will be provided over a period of not less than four weeks.

Can I be trained by someone I might replace?

No. Supervision, oversight, instruction and/or orientation of any employee offered a training opportunity or a trial period will not be performed by anyone who may be displaced by the employee who is to be trained or given a trial period.

declined a job offer for which I was deemed qualified.  What are my options?

You will be laid off and receive dismissal indemnity/severance under Article 7.

What should I do and whom can I talk to if AP gives me a layoff notice and tells me to clean out my desk?

Notify your shop steward of your termination and clean out your desk.  Leave the premises if AP says you can leave early.  You should then contact the union’s office at Guild@newsmediaguild.org.

I started a trial period for a job I’m considered qualified for but I don’t like it.  What can I do?

You can decline the job offer and be laid off.  You will receive dismissal indemnity/severance underArticle 7.

I completed my trial period but AP says I’m not qualified.  Can that decision be reviewed?

Yes.  While AP has sole authority to make the decision on qualifications, it has an obligation to provide you in writing its reasonable expectations for the job.  It has to provide you with all the necessary and sufficient training to perform the remaining work in a competent and proficient manner.  You have to be provided with a reasonable opportunity to acquire the necessary skills to properly operate equipment and to effectively utilize new methods of operation employed in such work.  A failure to meet its obligations could subject it to arbitral review.

Am I entitled to severance pay?

Yes, you will be laid off and receive dismissal indemnity/severance under Article 7.

How can I be sure the company has properly determined the seniority of all the staffers in my business location when it decides who will be laid off?

The union is routinely provided with payroll information to allow it to monitor AP’s administration of the contract.  It has your hire date and that of your colleagues.  If you believe the hire date is incorrect you must provide information to support the claim, which the union will pursue for you.

If I am laid off, how can I make sure I get the correct severance and dismissal benefits, including cashed-out vacation and personal leave?  Do I get cash for unused sick leave?

The union is a signer on all severance agreements which must be signed in order to receive the payment.  It reviews each one to make sure the proper severance is paid.  Severance pay is based on your highest regular weekly salary with the AP and it includes shift differentials.  The company issues payment for your unused vacation and CTO days shortly after you leave the company.  Contact AP if you feel you are not getting everything due and the union thereafter if you run into trouble.  You cannot get cash for unused sick leave when leaving AP.

What happens to the least senior employee after a senior employee is deemed qualified?

The senior employee is retained and the least senior employee in the same classification and working in the same bureau, correspondency, department or business location will be given the right to transfer to a vacant position provided the employee has the skills and qualifications to perform that work.  If no vacancy exists, the employee will be laid off and receive dismissal indemnity/severance.

What should we do about the demands on remaining staffers to take up the slack (work speedups), or replacing staffers with stringers, freelancers or managers.

You must do as directed by management so you must perform any additional duties given to you because the company can decide the size and composition of its staff.  If you are having trouble with increased demands because of shrinking staff, be sure to point out that the contract says the company must take cognizance that additional duties imposed on you limits your ability to perform the amount of work previously done.

A staff reduction is easy to recognize.  There are three staffers today and two tomorrow.  What happens if there are now two union-covered staffers plus a manager now doing the work of the recently released staffer?  There are still three people performing the union-covered work.  A reduction didn’t occur. Colleagues would have to gather information to support the claim.

Do I have a rehire right?  How does it work?

Laid-off employees, who do not include employees who left voluntarily with buyouts, are added to apreferential list for re-employment in the bureau, correspondency, department or business location they worked in for an 18 month period.  They will be re-employed if a vacancy occurs if qualified to perform the available work.  The company will mail re-employment offers to the last address provided to the AP that must be responded to within 30 days of the mailing date.  A failure to respond will result in the employee’s name being dropped from the list.  An employee may be offered a job in another bureau and the company will pay the transfer expenses as provided by contract.  If that offer is declined the employee will still be entitled to recall in the bureau, correspondency, department or business location last worked in.

How do we know the company is including a fair share of managers and non-domestic staffers along with those being laid off in the U.S. to achieve a 10% payroll reduction?

The company assured us during the last contract talks that “pain” of the cuts would be equally shared by unionized, administrative and overseas employees.  We know some managers took the voluntary retirement offer and we know of some bureau chiefs who are now handling several states and some other jobs have been consolidated.  We know very little about what is going on overseas.

What progress has the company made with its cost-saving measures such as contract benefit changes, normal attrition, the VERP, and layoffs already completed?

We don’t know.  We requested a meeting twice with AP so it could report its labor cost savings progress in the areas of attrition, the VERP, the layoffs, benefit changes and other initiatives but only received a short report on matters that are publicly well-known like the VERP and the layoffs.  We told AP that we want to know if it has new revenue-generating ideas.

When is AP meeting in Lake Placid?  What is it talking about?

While AP would not answer Guild inquiries on when the meeting in Lake Placid is taking place, a staffer reported its happening the weekend of Sept. 19.  Only members of the management team are attending. AP posted a notice on “Inside AP” on its thoughts for the meeting.

I’m terminated.  What about my health insurance?

You must have been part of AP’s health insurance program prior to your termination to receive benefits after you leave.

If you are 55 or older and were employed prior to Feb. 1, 1995, you can apply for retiree medical benefits.  Apply for those benefits promptly when learning of your termination.

If you don’t qualify for retiree medical insurance, you can apply for COBRA benefits.

Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, employees who lose medical insurance coverage through Dec. 31, 2009, pay a premium of 35 percent of the full COBRA premiums for up to nine months.  If you are eligible for retiree medical benefits you cannot receive the federal subsidy that applies to COBRA benefits.

Questions can be raised with Sue Gilkey of Human Resources at sgilkey@ap.org.

Can I receive retiree medical insurance while delaying receipt of my pension benefits to a later date?

Yes.

When can I start receiving my pension benefits?

At age 50 if you have 10 years or more of service.  Pensions received prior to age 65, which is the normal retirement age, are reduced for each year to offset your receiving the benefit for a longer period of time.

I know there are different pension payment options.  What are they?

You should refer to your summary plan description which describes in layman terms what your rights and benefit options are under the plan.

Contact Evelyn Calvert at eccalvert@ap.org if you have any questions.