U.S. Staff Important, EFE Tells Guild

Bargaining Bulletin No. 4

WASHINGTON — Company officials told Guild negotiators on Tuesday the new leadership of the the EFE news agency doesn’t plan on reducing staffing levels in the United States, but it will seek to reduce medical costs by 15%.

EFE made the announcement after the agency’s new chief executive officer, José Antonio Vera, recently toured the company’s Miami offices. Vera took the reins of the Madrid-based company in February.

“We need each employee we have,” said the company’s chief negotiator. Vera has told employees that he sees growth potential in the U.S. Hispanic market. EFE workers in the U.S. already contribute greatly to the some of the most sought-after news and information transmitted by EFE to its clients in Spanish and English.

Previously, EFE had told the Guild that five to ten layoffs or transfers were possible as the state-supported company struggled with financial problems. Spanish media recently reported that Vera told Spanish unions that EFE lost 4.8 million euros ($6.2 million) in 2011 and is projected to lose twice that amount — 10 million euros ($13 million) in the current fiscal year.

The Guild and EFE continued bargaining over a new labor agreement covering the company’s U.S. employees. The current agreement expired in December, but its terms remain in effect as talks continue.

Guild employees have already endured a four-year long wage freeze, with the last increase in salaries taking place in 2008. The Guild told EFE that the decision to not shed jobs in the U.S. was welcome news. “The company’s statements on retaining the talented staff we have is good to hear, and we remain willing to suggest ways to grow EFE’s business,” said Jorge Bañales, unit chair. “However, cooperation is a two-way street. There are many contract proposals that the company can easily implement to benefit workers,” he said.

Not all of EFE´s news was positive. EFE had earlier proposed a wage reduction for some employees, and on Monday, it added to the list of concessions a 15 percent reduction in medical costs.

The union rejected the company’s wage reduction proposal, saying that it could not agree to pit one group of workers against another. The union said it would study the company’s proposal for medical plan savings and try to be innovative in reducing plan expenses.

The union also again discussed its proposal for finally adding a binding non-discrimination clause to the contract as well as advancement opportunity language giving employees notice of job openings and promotions outside the United States. The Guild noted that all major international news agencies have similar non-discrimination protections, including Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence France-Press — as well as EFE workers in Spain itself. EFE offered language that would allow the union to complain about discrimination, but the wording would prevent an independent arbitrator from deciding claims, rendering the provision toothless.

“EFE keeps saying it doesn’t discriminate. We appreciate that fine sentiment, but words need to be matched with deeds,” said Tony Winton, the Guild’s chief negotiator.

Talks resume Wednesday.

Representing the Guild were Bañales, Winton, and negotiating committee member Winston Rodríguez.

Representing EFE were José Manuel Sanz, EFE News Services Vice President, and attorney Rudy Gómez.