EFE Proposes Wage Cut, Says Layoffs Possible

WASHINGTON – The EFE News Service on Tuesday proposed a five percent wage cut for some employees and told the News Media Guild that a restructuring of its U.S. operations could result in five to 10 job eliminations or transfers. The news was a surprise to the union, because the company late last year indicated that it was aware of no plans for U.S. staff reductions.

EFE, the world’s largest Spanish-language news agency, is a taxpayer-supported state enterprise based in Madrid. The Guild represents U.S editorial and administrative employees in California, Florida, New York, and Washington.

The Guild pressed EFE for more information about possible staff reductions, saying its entire proposal may change as a result. EFE said it would respond as quickly as it could, but U.S. representatives said they had little information. The new Spanish government, elected in October, is dealing with a debt crisis.

However, as recently as January 17, the new president of SEPI, EFE´s parent holding company, told EFE that no further layoffs were contemplated. “I have instructions from the government that the process of cleaning up the balance sheets of public sector companies be done without cuts in human resources,” said Ramón Aguirre.

EFE said it hoped to have more information by the end of February, but the Guild said it needed to hear about the company’s intentions earlier, and the union will follow up with EFE later this week.

“EFE has for years said that the Hispanic market in the United States and the international approach to the news are paramount to its success as a worldwide news service,” said Jorge Bañales, a Washington reporter and chair of the negotiating committee. ¨But five years after it transferred the Latin American editorial desk out of the United States to save money, the company is again threatening to further reduce its U.S. presence, instead of investing in the future,” he said.

With regard to pay reductions, the company proposed a five percent pay cut for the most senior employees in both the editorial and administrative departments. The proposal would apply to employees whose salaries are above the wage scale. EFE employees have not had a wage increase since 2008.

The company said it would absorb the increases in medical coverage rates for 2012, as specified in the current agreement.  The pact expired in December, but the parties agreed to extend its terms until March 31.

The Guild and the company also talked about anti-discrimination proposals advanced by the union. Currently, there is no language preventing discrimination by age, race, sex, creed, nationality, national origin, or immigration status. The Guild told EFE that this must change and that non-discrimination and diversity are goals that EFE and the Guild should share.

Finally, the Guild and EFE reached tentative agreements on four contract articles: Individual bargaining, severability, checkoff, and military service.

Both sides agreed to schedule the next round of bargaining promptly.

Representing the Guild were Bañales, committee member Winston Rodríguez, and NMG President Tony Winton.

Representing EFE were José Manuel Sanz, EFE vice president, and attorney Rudy Gómez.