After protracted negotiations and a recent authorization for a strike vote, the Akron Beacon Journal’s union employees have struck a three-year labor agreement.

The newspaper had called for cuts that would effectively decrease members’ wages by 25 to 30 percent, including a 16.75 reduction in base pay. The new agreement amounts to a 10 percent wage reduction. It reduces base pay by 2.11 percent.

“The negotiators’ tactic was to protect our base pay, which you generally don’t get back,” says Newspaper Guild Secretary Stephanie Warsmith. “When you look at the fact that they wanted to cut our base pay by 12 percent, 2 percent seems better.”

The deal also gives union employees an additional week of unpaid vacation. Under the agreement, the work week is reduced from 40 hours to 37.5 hours — without any corresponding decrease in responsibilities or expected productivity.

“I think our members will see if they’re amenable to working 40 hours,” says Warsmith. “I see them working 40 hours.”

The union employees — over 85 reporters, editors, artists, secretaries and others — accepted five fewer sick days for every two-year period. Warsmith characterizes it as “a significant decrease,” but says it could have been worse: “They wanted us to go to a sick leave policy that was literally worse than Wal-Mart.”
The contract also provides layoff protection for 18 months. If the paper announces layoffs, wages and hours will revert to the previous higher levels.

All union members receive a $200 bonus for approving the plan.

“We’re not celebrating, but our team thought it was the best we can get,” says Warsmith. “It’s better than going on strike or what [the newspaper management] proposed.” — D.X. Ferris

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