Bargaining & Settlements – Bytes & bits: Erie

Erie Ratifies First Contract

Eighteen months after GateHouse Media purchased the Erie Times-News, members of the Guild voted overwhelmingly to ratify an agreement for an initial three-year contract. The Guild also resolved several unfair labor practice (ULP) charges the union had filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

Prior to the January 2016 sale, the union was actively negotiating a contract with the previous owners, the Mead family. But GateHouse refused to accept the collective bargaining relationship that had been in place for more than 80 years.

Company representatives held meetings with employees where they outlined new conditions of employment and gave employees just a few days to decide whether they would accept them. Those who declined were considered to have resigned.

The Guild filed a ULP in July 2016, asserting that as the “perfectly clear successor” employer of all of the Times-News’ employees, GateHouse was prohibited from unilaterally changing the terms of employment. The Guild demanded that GateHouse reinstate the terms of the contract.

That was a no go, as the new managers planned to subcontract bargaining unit work and lay off employees.

While the charges were being prepared, Guild and management reps negotiated an interim agreement.

The March 2016 agreement included some provisions of the contract with the Mead family — a grievance and arbitration procedure; just cause provisions, and severance pay to more than 15 employees whose jobs had been subcontracted. The following month, the parties began negotiating a full contract.

In September, the Guild filed additional ULP charges protesting the employer’s failure to negotiate over wages above established minimums; refusal to pay step-up increases; failure to bargain over a voluntary separation offer, and for engaging in direct dealing with employees. The NLRB filed two complaints against GateHouse on Nov. 8, 2016. Subsequently GateHouse proposed a settlement to the Guild, which was based on the contract with the previous owners.

The ensuing agreement provided substantial financial relief to the 70 members of the bargaining unit who had not seen wage increases in as many as eight years.

The estimated value of the settlement was approximately $2.8 million, including $597,000 in lump-sum payments to current unit members and subcontracted employees and another $2.25 million in restored benefits.

The union anticipated that if settlement talks proved fruitless, the NLRB hearing would impose significant financial liabilities on the employer. That threat leveraged a bit of cooperation.

The three-year contract was ratified on May 30.