Another salvo was fired today in the war of words between the Newspaper Guild of New York and The New York Times. The two are in negotiations over digital and print agreements that expired in March 2011. Approximately 1,000 NYT employees are covered by the print contract and 100 by the digital contact. Earlier this week, the Guild claimed that in suddenly seeking two deals and not one unified agreement, NYT management is trying to create an impasse in the talks so it can force its “last, best” offer on employees. Yesterday, the NYT said it does want a single contractm but it can’t pursue one if the Guild won’t, as the NYT claims, “explicitly commit to negotiate a single contract.” Today the Guild explained its position:

Dear Guild Members,

Times management issued a statement late yesterday disingenuously claiming the Guild had refused to commit to bargaining a unified contract for newspaper and digital employees.

As we’ve said all along, we’re all in favor of a unified contract and we always have been. In fact, we’ve gone through 17 months of contract negotiations on the assumption that we’re going achieve that goal. Most, if not all, of the tentative agreements we’ve reached with management assume a unified contract.

But, as a responsible representative of its members, the Guild cannot casually waive the legal rights that it has. One of those rights is to maintain the dual-contract status quo in the event the talks go very badly. Why inflict a bad contract on two sets of members? What we told Times management during the July 17 talks is that we’re not waiving that right, but that we intend to continue bargaining toward a unified contract. Like anything else, Guild negotiators alone cannot combine the two contracts. Legally, that can be done only by a vote of the members of the newspaper unit and of the digital unit during the ratification process for a new combined contract. We are a democratic union and are committed to that process.

Management and its lawyers have long known our position. They know what our members’ rights are and they know that we’re not about to waive them. They know it because we sent them a letter in March telling them so (see attachment). Yet despite knowing our position – and the fact that we’ve come a long way in these talks on the assumption that we’re going to wind up with a unified contract – they insisted on needlessly pressing the point.

By putting their dual-contract alternative on the table on Tuesday, management negotiators went out of their way to throw a wrench in the talks. It’s a hostile move. It’s a transparent legal maneuver to set us up for a declaration of impasse. And it could undo most, if not all, of the tentative agreements already achieved.

It’s also a diversionary tactic. Times negotiators want to keep you from focusing on the fact that they still have an odious set of proposals on the table:

— No wage increase for 2011; a meager 1 percent raise with no retro for 2012; and an equally meager 1 percent “bonus” for 2013

— A tiny increase in health care fund contributions (for which The Times pays less than half than most other companies its size), which means that you will almost definitely have to pay even more for medical benefits that probably will have to be reduced

— A reduction in overtime pay for most employees

— Slashing severance pay and buyouts in half

The latest company proposal(s) contain NO movement on any of those issues, and that will certainly set you back where it counts most: in your pocketbooks and wallets.

Before this happened, we sincerely believed that we were on the road to getting a unified contract that would be good for digital and newspaper members alike, while giving management the relief it sought. Now, we don’t know what to think.

Despite this act of hostility, with your help and support we’ll keep doing the best we can to get the best agreement possible.

In Unity,

The Guild Bargaining Committee

Bill O’Meara, New York Guild President

Peter Szekely, Secretary-Treasurer

Anthony Napoli, Local Representative

Grant Glickson, Unit Chairperson

Mindy Matthews, Grievance Chairperson

Steve Berman

Deborah Bratton

Dan Gold

Karen Grzelewski

Monica Johnson

Brian Leary

Thomas Lin

Steve Myers

Donald G. McNeil

Erik Piepenburg

Michael Powell

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