EC, RA officers discuss bargaining, strategy at annual meeting in DC

RA members and alternate members (from left) Suzette Laboy, Mary Esch, Steve Karnowski, Terry Wallace, Ben Neary, Ken (Bobby) Johnson, Ed Morsett, Dave Herron and EC member Vin Cherwoo discuss contract bargaining on Aug. 10.

RA members and alternate members (from left) Suzette Laboy, Mary Esch, Steve Karnowski, Terry Wallace, Ben Neary, Ken (Bobby) Johnson, Ed Morsett, Dave Herron and EC member Vin Cherwoo discuss contract bargaining.

News Media Guild officers approved a new budget and discussed contract bargaining with The Associated Press, plans for staff mobilizations and a recruiting campaign, and other issues during their annual meeting.At the Aug. 9-11 meeting, held in Washington, D.C., officers from around the country said they and their co-workers oppose AP’s major proposals.

Those include halving severance pay for new hires, reducing the maximum severance for longtime staffers and allowing forced transfers. Staffers who refuse to transfer would lose their jobs.

The company proposals also include eliminating the weekly car allowance for photographers, video-journalists and videographers and reducing the minimum pay for being called back to work after hours from four hours’ pay to one if the staffer works from home.

The delegates discussed AP’s effort to sharply increase staffers’ health care costs, from monthly out-of-pocket contributions and deductibles to office visit and prescription drug co-pays. Copays and out-of-pockets costs after the deductible is paid would increase in 2014, and in 2015, AP wants to introduce a high-deductible consumer-driven health plan to encourage employees to become smarter consumers of health care because their out-of-pocket costs would increase sharply if they don’t.

The individual premium plan deductible would increase to $400 a year in 2014 from the current $150, and for families it would go to $800 from $300. AP’s proposal would add a new feature, the out-of-pocket maximum, which AP wants to be $2,400 for an individual and $4,800 for a family.

In 2014, the company wants to pay only 85 percent of co-insurance on big medical bills for those in the premium plan and 75 percent for those in the basic plan; under the current plan, AP pays 100 percent and 90 percent, respectively. That means staffers would pay 15 percent or 25 percent of medical bills, depending on their plan, up to the respective caps. In 2015, AP wants to pay 80 percent of coinsurance, after the deductible, under the high-deductible consumer-driven health plan.

AP wants spouses and domestic partners off its health plan if health insurance is available to them elsewhere. To be covered by AP’s health plan, staffers spouses and domestic partners would have to provide an affidavit each year stating that other insurance is not available.

The proposal would require the monthly payment of a $50 penalty by employees who can’t meet three of four health goals, including body mass index, blood pressure, and blood sugar and good cholesterol levels.

The officers also reviewed key grievance cases the Guild is pursuing and aired concerns over serious short-staffing in most bureaus.

They discussed the recent contract settlement at EFE that was reached after 20 months of negotiations. It calls for all workers to take 24 unpaid furlough days over a two-year period, starting in 2014. Workers also must pay 5 percent of the cost of the current medical insurance plan. In 2015, wages will go up 2 percent across the board.

The state-supported but independent company is the world’s largest Spanish-language news agency. EFE, which is based in Madrid, sought large payroll savings because of the ongoing economic crisis in Spain.

The NMG Executive Committee, which oversees day-to-day union operations, was joined by the Representative Assembly, the Guild’s legislature. On the EC’s recommendation, the RA approved a budget totaling just over $940,000 for the 2013-2014 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.