By BERNARD MCGHEE
SEATTLE — The Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild told its members Saturday it is making progress in negotiations with The Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, but the sides still have a long way to go if they want to avoid a strike scheduled for Tuesday.
"Both sides are working hard to get a deal," said Bruce Meachum, the Guild’s chief negotiator.
Meanwhile, representatives from The Times and a smaller union were also trying to reach a contract. That union, which represents distribution workers, rejected an agreement reached by negotiators on Friday.
On Saturday, officials in the Newspaper Guild held a meeting to update members on the status of their federally mediated talks with the newspapers. Because the union and the newspapers are under a confidentiality agreement, reporters were asked to leave the meeting before specifics were discussed.
A recording on the Guild’s negotiations hotline said the newspapers were preparing to make a contract offer. The union, which represents 1,000 advertising, circulation and editorial employees, has been without a contract since July.
The workers say they want better raises and benefits than they are being offered. The minimum wage for a reporter with six years’ experience is $844.88 a week, or $21.12 per hour. Their strike threat is timed to coincide with the Thanksgiving-to-Christmas period, the busiest advertising time of the year.
Seattle Times President Mason Sizemore has maintained that his company offers competitive pay and benefits.
"There is no reason for a strike," Sizemore said Saturday.
Representatives of both sides were on call Saturday, and talks were scheduled to resume toSday.
Meanwhile, representatives from The Times and the smaller union, the Teamsters 763, which represents 180 distribution workers, were meeting Saturday night. Those workers have been without a contract since June 30, and although negotiators reached an agreement Friday, the workers rejected the agreement in a vote Friday night.
The newspapers, which negotiate together under a joint operating agreement, say they will continue to publish in the event of a strike. The union plans to publish its own strike paper.
"We will deliver the newspaper and we have done extensive planning and in preparation for this," said Times spokeswoman Kerry Coughlin.
Meanwhile, 8-foot-tall chain link fencing rose around Times properties. Times officials said the fencing was to keep pickets off the property and to ensure the safety of workers who do not strike.
"We regret those obvious signs of any kind of conflict, but they are necessary," Coughlin said.
Rebecca Michelle, who works in The Times’ advertising graphics department, said the fence was unnecessary and "makes them look like fools."
The union is asking for a three-year deal with hourly raises of $3.05, $1.55 and $1.55. The newspapers last announced offer was an undisclosed raise in the first year of a six-year contract, to be followed by five years of 45-cent-an-hour raises.
Guild members are also upset that suburban reporters earn less than their downtown counterparts.
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