NMG bargainers focus on health care as talks with AP resume

The News Media Guild resumed contract bargaining with The Associated Press today, after a break over the holidays. Bargaining sessions are scheduled in New York for this Wednesday and Thursday as well.

The Guild plans to discuss its latest health care proposal, presented during the last round of bargaining in mid-December.

Health care costs are the key issue in bargaining, and the AP has proposed shifting more than $10 million of its costs onto Guild-covered staff over the next three years. This would reduce AP’s health care expenses from their current level, but would cut living standards for nearly 1,100 journalists, technicians and other Guild-covered employees in the U.S.

During the last bargaining sessions, the Guild submitted a revised overall proposal that covers many issues. Those included language to address a key concern of Guild-covered staff: the worsening short-staffing in bureaus across the country. NMG’s proposal would require that when a staffer is assigned new duties, a corresponding amount of work is decreased.

NMG also proposed that the current provisions covering mileage reimbursements remain unchanged. AP wants to reduce reimbursements for driving to cover news and wants photographers and videographers who currently receive a $103.25 weekly car allowance to sign affidavits that they will make their personal vehicle available for business use any time the company wishes.

The Guild also proposed that vesting under the defined contribution plan, or 401(k), be immediate instead of the current three-year wait and that AP contribute amounts to the plan that reflect all employee compensation, including overtime pay.

The union is seeking a three-year contract, retroactive to Aug. 31, 2013, with an evergreen clause that would keep the next contract in place until bargaining results in a new contract or an impasse.  AP terminated the last contract on Dec. 5, but salary, benefits and most other provisions continue normally.