NMG members discuss job security, evaluations

AP reporters from single-staffer offices at bargaining table, Dec. 2, 2010. Photo by Don Ryan

Three correspondents in one-person bureaus came to the bargaining table Thursday to tell the Associated Press that their seniority should count somewhere in the company.

News Media Guild members Vicki Smith of Morgantown, W.Va.; Michael Rubinkam of Allentown, Pa,; and Geoff Mulvihill of Mount Laurel, N.J., told AP that they were surprised to learn when the company laid off staffers in November 2009 that their years of service didn’t count anywhere.

They said they were especially surprised since both they and the AP view the move to a one-person correspondency as a promotion. They said they think it would be difficult to convince others to move into the correspondencies, given the tenuous job security that comes along with the positions.

“I feel like a woman without a country, and I thought I had a home with AP,” Smith said, adding that she has always considered herself part of the state operation.

Rubinkam said he didn’t give seniority a second thought when he took his job. “Historically, it wasn’t an issue. A year ago, it became an issue,” he said.

Mulvihill said “it was jarring to know I don’t have seniority in my state.”

AP said it appreciated the presentation and will respond.

The Guild also called upon the AP to handle employee evaluations fairly and honestly, just as the ethics policy requires staffers to handle stories in the same way. Guild administrator Kevin Keane said the standard should be part of the ethics policy because the evaluations are an ethical issue.

Eileen Connelly of New York business news; Jim Militello of the Broadcast News Center in Washington; and Linda Johnson, a business news staffer based in Trenton, N.J., spoke to the AP bargainers about issues they’ve faced with other staffers’ poor evaluations.

“The company requires fair and accurate standards for its news report,” Militello said. “Those same standards should apply to its evaluations.”

Connelly said the negative evaluations are hurting the news report. “There’s been an exodus, and many cited the negative atmosphere regarding the evaluation process,” she said.

The Guild gave the AP several proposed changes to the contract language regarding evaluations, including that the Guild get copies of all appraisals with a rating below “meets expectations” or ones that require a performance improvement plan. The Guild wants to be able to step in and help staffers before they’re on their way out the door.

The Guild also proposed that an employee have a month between the evaluation and the post-evaluation conference and that no derogatory personnel record have any effect 12 months following its date.

The union also presented the AP with a rewritten version of the company’s performance appraisal users’ guide, which advises managers on how to evaluate employees. The Guild believes the guide encourages managers to be negative with statements such as saying “most managers give their employees inflated performance appraisals.”

The Guild wants managers to be advised to avoid deflated ratings as well as inflated ones, for example.

In addition to Keane, those representing the Guild were: Tony Winton, Martha Waggoner, John Braunreiter, Don Ryan and Vin Cherwoo.

Representing the AP were: Michelle Ehrlich, Kristin Gazlay, Sue Gilkey, Carole Feldman, Alison Quan, Hilda Auguste and attorney Steve Macri.