EFE: Ten percent wage cut for two years

WASHINGTON – EFE News Services proposed broader and deeper wage cuts for its U.S. workers on Tuesday as the Madrid-based news agency faces continuing financial problems.

As talks began a year ago, EFE proposed a five percent wage cut for certain senior employees, a decrease in medical costs of 15%, and a 25% cut in 401(k) contributions – all taking effect on Jan. 1, 2012.

Workers have already endured a four-year-long wage freeze.

On Tuesday, the employer said it was proposing a continued wage freeze for 2012, and an across-the-board wage cut of ten percent starting Jan. 1, 2013. Wages would remain cut through the proposed life of the contract, which would expire Dec. 31, 2014.

EFE proposed medical rates that would lead to a 15% reduction in costs – but that would also make employees pay 100% of future rate increases. Currently, EFE absorbs the first five percent of medical plan increases, while employees absorb the amounts over five percent. The most recent rate increase – passed along this month — was two percent.

The Guild noted that EFE workers in Spain recently accepted 8% wage reductions, but with a guarantee of no layoffs. The company’s proposal Tuesday does not contain a “no layoff” guarantee.

The Guild revised its wage proposal, moving from a five percent across the board increase to a three percent increase. The Guild told EFE that it would schedule a meeting with the CWA-sponsored health plan manager to look at ways of reducing costs.

The Union also proposed new anti-discrimination language that would allow a neutral arbitrator to hear discrimination complaints, but only if an employee did not file a federal or state discrimination complaint. EFE said it was considering the union’s new proposal.

The Guild and the union traded proposals on interns in the wake of a grievance over the use of interns in Washington and New York that the union says violates the contract. EFE’s proposal would promise that the employer use its best efforts to partner with a U.S.-based educational institution. The Guild’s proposal would commit EFE to recruiting interns from the United States.

In another area, the Guild and EFE discussed the company’s proposals on family and medical leaves. The Company confirmed that its proposals would only prevent “stacking” of parental and family leaves, and would have no impact on pregnancy sick leave. The Guild told EFE that it could accept the company’s proposal on that understanding – EFE said it would get back to the union shortly.

Finally, the Guild asked EFE about the role of a “high commissioner” appointed by EFE’s new president, José Antonio Vera. The commissioner has had meetings with employees and has discussed an expansion of U.S. news coverage. After questioning from the union, EFE said the commissioner is not an EFE manager and that while some employees are doing more editing, job classifications have not been changed. The Guild told EFE that current contract language limits the number of freelancers and stringers and that expanded news coverage work should fall to Guild-covered employees.

Talks are expected to resume in Miami the week of Dec. 10.

Representing the Guild were bargaining committee members Jorge Bañales, and Winston Rodríguez, NMG chief negotiator Tony Winton, and NMG counsel Barbara Camens.

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