EFE staff marks 10 years as part of News Media Guild

It has been 10 years since EFE News Services’ employees voted to organize as a union, choosing News Media Guild as the unit’s representative. This 10th anniversary finds the EFE staff unit strong, with 85 percent of the represented employees as union members, and readying for negotiations toward a fourth collective bargaining agreement.

As in most cases, organizing was not easy. Back in 2005, almost half of the Spanish news agency workforce in the United States comprised journalists hired in Spain and protected by a collective agreement with Spanish unions.

Local hires didn’t have any contractual protection. They could be laid off without any reason and no severance payment at any time and there was no overtime compensation. The company was not offering any retirement plan since their Spanish-CBA employees were within the social security system of Spain.

The decision to organize happened after employees were unable to persuade EFE to set up a modest 401(k) plan. With more than half of the EFENS’ employees in Miami, workers made contact with NMG’s Tony Winton, who was then president, and the organizing effort got a boost.

After a group of employees formally asked for a vote on organizing the process led to a voting day in the Fall of 2005, requiring some logistics since there were voters in Miami, New York and Washington.

“I remember very well the process, so formal, so serious, with those booths and a curtain to secure secret voting,” said Maribel ElHamti, now office administrator in the Washington bureau. “I remember how the National Labor Relations Board official came here and set up the booths, and we had to designate officials to check each voter’s identity. I was surprised at how well organized it was, how formal and serious.”

Negotiations for a first collective bargaining agreement began late in 2005 and were completed in November 2006. But the unit paid a heavy price: without any warning and with contradicting promises in writing sent by EFE’s president, the company decided to close its Latin American Editorial Desk in Miami, laying off almost twenty local hires, and moving the operation to Bogotá, Colombia.

Acting quickly, the NMG negotiating team jumped to bargain a severance package for workers losing their jobs. In an exemplary show of union discipline, the negotiation team’s president Benito García and other Miami employees who knew they would be laid off continued supporting the negotiation and joined in voting for the first contract.

Teresa Bouza, now an EFENS reporter in San Francisco, highlighted from that first contract “the establishment of a 401(k), something so important for our retirement; the compensation for overtime, a normalization of weekend shifts, and the sabbatical year for professional development.

“An important component of the union work all these years has been Tony Winton and his passion for negotiation. He’s a star,” said Bouza who was part of the negotiating commiteee in 2009. “The art of bargaining includes surviving those long, very long, meetings with the employer’s representatives in which we gain little by little new benefits.”

Bouza said the bulletins and other messages e-mailed to all unit members explaining the bargaining process, alerting about changes, collecting information about grievances and responding to members’ questions were very helpful.

A heyday for NMG members at EFENS came in 2013, in the course of the longest negotiation so far when high-ranking EFE officers came to Washington, and Guild members donned red T-shirts with the text “WE are EFE” in all the company’s offices.

Pictures were quickly e-mailed and the company officers were aware of the disciplined support for the Union among the employees.

Since the vote to join a union, local staff turnover has been fewer than 10 of the workers who voted to organize a decade ago. New hires have joined the Guild keeping our tradition  of support and unity for collective representation.