Village Voice Workers Move Closer to Strike

Village Voice Workers Move Closer to Strike

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“We feel like we've been pushed against the wall,” union rep tells TheWrap after the staff authorizes establishment of a strike deadline

After 13-hours of negotiations between management and staffers ended in a stalemate Monday night, the unionized workers of the Village Voice voted to authorize the bargaining committee to set a strike deadline.

If a new contract can't be agreed upon by both parties before that deadline passes, the workers are prepared to strike.

“We feel like we've been pushed against the wall,” said Eden Schulz, Secretary-Treasurer of UAW Local 2110 and the Voice's union representative, to TheWrap. “And we want to make a strong statement.”

Also read: Village Voice Lays Off Michael Musto, Michael Feingold in Restructuring

As TheWrap reported previously, Voice staffers staged a lunchtime walkout on Monday to express disappointment over the low wages, looming healthcare concerns, and “shit coffee.” They were hoping to come to terms on a new contract before Monday night's previously agreed upon midnight deadline, but, according to Schluz and staffers at the Voice, management didn't do a good enough job satiating their demands.

In a collective statement given to TheWrap Tuesday, Voice employees stress they “love their jobs,” but that ultimately that love won't stop them from striking.

“Management's offer is intolerable. It reeks of contempt for us as employees, for the work that we do, and for our future with the company,” the statement says. “Our bargaining committee will set a date for us to go on strike. If we cannot reach an acceptable agreement by that date, we will walk off the job for an undetermined amount of time.”

Also read: Village Voice Staff Stages Lunchtime Protest Over Bad Pay, Dwindling Benefits and ‘Sh-t’ Coffee

The employees remain dissatisfied for many reasons. They say management is trying to pass exorbitant health care costs onto the employees, even though it will only save them “$8,494.84 per year,” in total. They also say the company is refusing to unfreeze the matching of 401K contributions, despite promising to do so earlier. Though management has offered them raises, they're reportedly only offering them $35 to $40 per week.

The worker's statement did not, however, reveal whether management offered to budge on the “shit coffee.”

Also read: Stephanie Zacharek Replacing Scott Foundas as Village Voice Critic

Tom Finkel, the Village Voice's Editor-in-Chief declined to comment on the ongoing situation when contacted by TheWrap.

Here's the entire statement released by the Village Voice staffers:

Hello again, other reporters. It feels like just yesterday that we wrote to you (because it was). Unfortunately, it's been a very bad 24 hours.

Yesterday, our bargaining committee met for a 13-hour marathon meeting with management, beginning at 11 a.m. and ending after midnight. It was an extremely heated conversation — our veteran union representative told us she's never experienced anything quite like it in her 20-some years representing Voice employees.

We'll cut to the chase: the meeting was not a success. We have been unable to come to an agreement with management over wages, healthcare, working conditions and other basic contract terms.

As a result, our membership voted today to authorize the bargaining committee to set a strike deadline. The vote was unanimous.

This is a serious step. It allows our bargaining committee to set a date to reach an agreement with management. If we cannot reach an agreement by that day, we will go on strike. We want you to understand why we've gotten to this point.

Healthcare

- Right now, Voice union members pay nothing towards our healthcare premium. That is a right we have won over decades of collective bargaining. In the past, management has offered decent healthcare coverage as a trade-off for our relatively low wages.

Now, they want to increase our healthcare costs by a staggering amount, while giving us a pittance of a “raise” that will not make up the difference.

To keep our current, very basic healthcare plan, a single employee with no children will have to pay over $200 per month beginning immediately. A person with children will pay $740. We are also being offered a “basic plan” that is slightly cheaper, but comes with higher co-pays, much higher out of pocket costs, higher rates for emergency care, and higher costs for medication.

And here's what so upsetting to us: the grand total that management will save by raising our healthcare costs is $8,494.84 per year.

We repeat: $8,494.84 per year. Total. Not per person.

Management is fighting with us — management is willing to risk a strike — over $8,500 a year. They could hold a carwash, or sell one of the televisions in our conference room, and find $8,500 a year.
Under the new plan, if just one of our members needs to see a specialist who is outside of our network, he or she could end up paying $10,000 out of pocket–that's more than it would cost the company to keep all of us on our current plan for an entire year.

Pay

- In return for decimating our healthcare, management has offered us a raise of between $30 and $35 a week. It wouldn't make up the difference for what we'd lose in healthcare costs. It's barely even a cost of living increase.

401K

Management's stinginess is particularly galling given the fact that in past negotiations, we agreed to allow them to temporarily stop contributing to employees’ 401k accounts. They were supposed to begin contributing again this year. We have told them, though, that we would allow the moratorium to continue.

That alone would save the company $90,000 over the three-year contract. Even that major concession has not been enough to persuade them to make us a decent offer.

Working conditions

- Management has refused to maintain the basic rights that make our work environment more tolerable. The proposal they gave us will, among other things:

- Eliminate childcare benefits for all part-time employees and full-time employees with less than a year of service.
- Slash maternity leave to the minimum permitted under federal law.
- Eliminate the paid position of Affirmative Action/Diversity Coordinator, the staff member tasked with making sure the Voice is a diverse and inclusive workplace. Under our contract, a staff member takes on this position and makes a small stipend for doing this work.

Management had originally demanded that this position be completely eliminated. Now, they say it would be fine for that person to continue to do the work. For free. This demonstrates to us that management isn't even remotely committed to diversity in the workplace. They're not even willing to pay lip service to the idea.

In addition, the company has rejected many of our other requests: a guaranteed minimum salary for staff writers. An increase in commissions for our tireless, very underpaid sales staff. Improvements in layoff benefits. They won't even make a commitment to hire people to the many vacant positions in the office.

They won't even agree to improve our damn coffee.

Now, you may have some questions. We'd like to answer the most common one preemptively.

Isn't the Voice almost broke? What makes you think they have another dime to give you?

NO, they are not. In past negotiations, management has told us that the company is in serious financial straits, and cuts are necessary to stay afloat. That is not the case this year.

Both during negotiations and before, we've been told by our bosses that the company is doing OK. They are safely in the black for the first time in a long time. That's because our payroll costs are much smaller, while our SEO profits have risen, and our page-views are better than they've been in a very long time.

Management is not making this terrible offer to save the company. They're doing it to make themselves a few more bucks, and they're doing it on our backs.

What happens next?

Management's offer is intolerable. It reeks of contempt for us as employees, for the work that we do, and for our future with the company.

Our bargaining committee will set a date for us to go on strike. If we cannot reach an acceptable agreement by that date, we will walk off the job for an undetermined amount of time.

To close, we want to make one more thing clear:

We love our jobs.

We're proud to work here. Many of us have admired this paper since we were teenagers. We don't want to go on strike. We want to come to work every day and continue building this paper into the best possible institution it can be.

We love our work, and we take pride in our workplace and in each other. Does management feel the same way?