Latest offers frustrate Guild


Associated Press

SEATTLE — Revised contract offers were delivered to striking employees of The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer Monday evening, with some movement on employee demands but the same raise for most workers that was rejected one month ago.

"It’s our feeling that that was a very good offer, that we made a very good offer prior to the Guild going out on strike. While this may be essentially the same, it remains a very competitive offer and one the Guild would find is higher than in many other cities," Times spokeswoman Kerry Coughlin said.

Employees have been offered an across-the-board raise of $3.30 over six years.

The papers are published under a joint operating agreement and are negotiating jointly.

The newspapers set a Wednesday deadline for workers to accept the offers.

Coughlin said if that does not happen, many strikers could find their jobs permanently filled by replacement workers or cut by downsizing forced by the strike.

"They could come back to work as jobs were available, but jobs may not be available," she said.

Coughlin said the offers were made with the expectation that Guild negotiators would recommend ratification.

Guild representatives said they received the offers too late to present them to members at a Monday night meeting, and they said they were frustrated that the newspapers were not offering more.

"It’s just a matter of being astonished and bewildered," said Guild spokesman Art Thiel, a Post-Intelligencer sports columnist. "We’re extremely disappointed this is all we have to report after a weekend of negotiations."

Thiel earlier said The Times had made an offer Monday afternoon and then pulled it off the table, but Coughlin said the offer had been only a draft of the actual contract, which was e-mailed to Guild negotiators at 5:45 p.m., about 45 minutes after the P-I e-mailed its own similar offer.

Coughlin and P-I Editor and Publisher Roger Oglesby said the final offers increased the percentage of health benefits covered by the papers and reduced a phaseout of differential pay scales for suburban "zone" reporters from six years to three.

It also increased the base salary range, on top of the $3.30 raise over six years, for workers in six lower-paid job classifications, including news assistant, customer service representative and assistant district adviser in circulation.

"There’s a lot of people who are angry," P-I reporter Kery Murakami said before the Monday night Guild meeting. "We’ve been angry that people got their hopes up high and they’re still offering the same thing."

The strike "isn’t fun," he said. "But I feel that, if anything, after standing for a month out in the cold and rain, I’m not going back for the same offer."

"This is day 28," said striker Joann Di Grasse, who works in Times’ classified advertising. "I’d be hopeful we could have something reasonable on the table, something that would make us want to come back."

Striking employees continued to walk picket lines.

Negotiators for both sides had indicated hopes for a settlement from weekend talks. Talks lasted most of the day Saturday and Sunday.

On Sunday, The Times and P-I resumed charging for newspapers for the first time since the strike began Nov. 21.

The majority of the 1,059 Guild-represented workers at The Times and the P-I went on strike. At issue are wages and benefits, especially for lower-paid members working in advertising and circulation. Most of the Guild workers are at The Times, which handles advertising and distribution for both papers under the 1983 joint operating agreement.

Strikers include editorial, circulation and advertising employees.

Under current agreements, minimum pay for a reporter with six years’ experience is $844.88 per week, or $21.12 per hour. A first-year customer-service representative earns as little as $421 a week and top scale for a newspaper librarian is about $636.

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