Mediator to try to avert strike at Philadelphia newspapers and Philly.com

 (NewsWorks file photo)

(NewsWorks file photo)

Reporters at the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com are meeting today with the owners of their company in what could decide whether the Newspaper Guild goes on strike.

A federal mediator has told both sides to be prepared for a marathon session Monday that could bleed well into the night. 

Barring an agreement, the union could theoretically go on strike as early as Sunday June 28, a day after the union’s contract expires. Earlier this month, the Guild authorized the right to strike. 

Bill Ross with the Guild said there was incremental progress made after a recent eight-hour session at the bargaining table. For instance, Philly.com workers, who are under a different contract, are almost at a point where they’re satisfied, but not all the way. Some of the clauses agreed-to among the newspaper workers have been transferred to the dot-com contract. 

There still remains a two-tier culture, though, especially when it comes to wages. 

Philly.com employees, according to Ross, are on a 5-step pay scale that maxes out at $50,000. The papers, meanwhile, are on a 9-step scale with a pay ceiling of around $70,000. Both papers and the digital side start employees in the ballpark of $35,000, Ross said. 

“Our position is, we wanted them rolled into the main unit contract, and the company for eight months has refused,” Ross said. “They want the Philly.com employees paid less.”

Philadelphia Media Network responds that the current contract only has minimum rates for pay, not maximum pay thresholds. According to vice president of human resources Keith Black, 75 percent of Inquirer reporters and 57 percent of Daily News reporters are paid more than what is contractually obligated. 

“We are not going to disclose the exact amount paid to our personnel, but the tiers are minimums and most reporters make above those minimums,” Spokeswoman Amy Buckman said.

Nonetheless, employees have reached what they’re calling a tentative agreement on the Philly.com negotiating.

For employees of the Inquirer and the Daily News, though, a more contentious arrangement prevails. 

“I’ll admit there was a little progress,” Ross said. “But I think the company has mischaracterized where we are, because we’re still very far apart on health care and seniority.”

Ross said Guild members have made enough concessions since both papers filed for bankruptcy in 2009.

“You know, we’re done. We’ve done enough,” Ross said. “We want this company to survive, and thrive, but it’s only going to do that through its employees.”

Ross said the Guild might not strike on Sunday if both sides are still at loggerheads.

“That’s being determined at this point. You can’t assume it would be Sunday,” he said.

If not a strike, then what?

“We’ll figure that out and we’ll discuss that with our employer,” he said.

Buckman said she’s “pleased” the company has reached an accord with the digital employees, noting the goal of Monday’s meeting is to reach an agreement, however long it takes. 

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