May 12, 2020 – Members of the Omaha World Herald Guild voted unanimously to ratify their first collective bargaining agreement on May 1, winning a 2 percent on Oct. 1, 2020, a 1 percent raise on April 1, 2022, and an immediate raise for a subset of employees based on new pay scales in the agreement.
Employees will accrue one week of severance pay per year, up to a maximum of 26 weeks, up from management’s previous practice of limiting severance to 18 weeks. This was a major accomplishment since nearly 40 percent of Guild members have been with the World-Herald for more than 20 years, said Todd Cooper, unit chair.
“On the other end, we were finally able to raise the starting minimums in several job categories and get much-needed step increases, that will immediately adjust the pay of nearly one-fourth of our members,” Cooper said.
The contract includes a no-layoff provision through Oct. 25. It allows management to implement two unpaid furlough weeks before the end of July, while the $600 federal unemployment subsidy remains in effect.
The agreement also stipulates that management may issue discipline to employees only where there is “just cause” and outlines a grievance procedure to resolve disputes between union members and management.
Employees’ health care costs will be frozen through 2021. (They were frozen this year, too, after the Guild challenged the company’s attempt to impose cost increases on Guild-represented employees.)
In addition to Cooper, OWH Guild negotiators included Hunter Paniagua, Erin Grace, Erin Duffy, Alia Conley, and Rich Mills. They were assisted by Tony Mulligan, administrative officer of the Denver Newspaper Guild. Cooper praised the union negotiators for their persistence and attention to detail.
In a tweet announcing the ratification vote, he also expressed gratitude to Lee News for “their quick, diligent work,” but gave “zero thanks” to the former BH Media Group “for months of nonsense: refusing to bargain health-care premium increases, new staffers’ wages, toiling over jury duty allowances, a bs attempt to fire a veteran journalist.”
Some gratitude to @LeeNewsTweets for their quick,diligent work. Zero thanks to the former @bhmediagroupinc for months of nonsense:refusing to bargain health-care premium increases, new staffers’ wages,toiling over jury duty allowances, a bs attempt to fire a veteran journalist…
— Omaha World-Herald Guild (@owhguild) May 2, 2020
The agreement was reached after several days of expedited, off-the-record contract negotiations over three weeks. The parties agreed to the talks shortly after Lee, which owns the paper, sought to implement two weeks of unpaid furloughs at each of its newspapers.
The Guild’s goals in bargaining were to have a voice in their newspaper and in the future of news in Nebraska; to secure pay raises and protect benefits while holding the line on health-care costs; to have a say and provide some dignity to the departure process; and to secure jobs, Cooper said.
“While not a part of the contract, the company’s notice that it may consider transitioning five staffers’ jobs to a design center in November is disheartening and misguided,” he said. “The Guild believes strongly that Lee can find cost savings at the top by eliminating a portion of its overstuffed stable of vice presidents. And there are plenty of expenditures that can be excised before Lee starts whittling away at the frontline staffers working hard to bring news to Nebraskans.”
Employees formed the Omaha World Herald Guild in October 2018, part of a surge in union organizing with The NewsGuild-CWA that continues today. The vote was 93.4 percent in favor of unionizing Cooper said, “So it was fitting, and quite humbling, that our members voted unanimously to approve our first contract.”
Follow the Omaha World-Herald Guild on Twitter @owhguild.