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So what’s the latest on those Strib contract negotiations?

In recent days, a cone of silence has descended over 425 Portland, where management and labor are actively hashing out a new newsroom contract. The bosses, an inherently tight-knit bunch, don’t share their memos, but today, the Newspaper Guild provided its members — and us! — with an update.

Yes, contract talk is inside baseball, but the outcome will determine the quantity and quality of journalists in the state’s largest newsroom. This particular deal will be a major indicator of how the Strib plans to survive ongoing revenue shrinkage.

With the caveat that this is only one side of the story, a few highlights from the Guild memo:

• Both sides are working to avoid layoffs; I believe management wants to keep as many “content providers” around as possible — but at reduced rates. However, the union wants buyouts — which management finds too expensive. (By the way, Sunday is the one-year anniversary of the last, very large buyout round. No doubt, some current Stribbers would love to take last year’s deal today.)

• The union wants management cutbacks to go with labor reductions. As you might expect, management is sticking its fingers in its ears and singing, “La-la-la I can’t heaaaaar you!” (OK, that’s a dramatic recreation.)

• A personal favorite: when editor Nancy Barnes announced last month that the newsroom budget had to be cut 10 percent, she said a plan had to be in place June 1. What became of the magic date? In the droll words of the Guild, “It came, and went.”

The contract expires July 31, but the Guild says the existing deal remains in force as long as good-faith negotiations continue.

As always, here’s the memo:

Have a question? We have answers

What’s next?

Negotiations are slated to resume on Thursday.

Will I be laid off?

Both the Guild negotiations committee and management have expressed a strong desire to avoid layoffs. That said, Article XIII in the contract states that management can dismiss employees due to “reasons of economy.” The contract states that layoffs will occur in inverse order of seniority in each job classification.

What is my seniority status?

Members of the negotiations committee have updated seniority lists. Please contact Graydon Royce or David Chanen to check your status.

What about buyouts?

The Guild committee has repeatedly suggested that management offer a small number of buyouts. The company has stated that buyouts have upfront costs that are difficult to bear given our financial situation. The scope of a buyout package has been a point of disagreement, however.

Why doesn’t management cut its ranks?

We’ve asked that. Repeatedly.

What about healthcare?

A separate group consisting of six other Star Tribune unions is scheduled to meet with the company June 16 to discuss healthcare. The Guild and the other unions are in a stronger position to bargain together than if the unions bargained alone. The Star Tribune is self-insured. Earlier this year, the Star Tribune took independent employees out of the insurance pool, a move the unions believe is a violation of a 1998 agreement. The split caused our healthcare costs to increase 23 percent. A June 12 arbitration hearing is scheduled on that matter.

Does the Guild have representation on the healthcare committee?

Yes — Marty Demgen, our local Guild representative. He is being advised by Star Tribune healthcare guru Steve Brandt.

What’s happening with the other unions?

Some of the unions on the Interplant Council continue to participate in a task force process to discuss budget cuts in various departments.

Where can I find a copy of the current contract?

Click here.

What is the evergreen clause in the current contract?

According to our current contract, which expires July 31, as long as management and the Guild continue good-faith negotiations after the contract expires, the terms of the contract continue.

What happened to the crucial June 1 deadline?

It came, and went.

I’m hearing a lot of rumors, which ones are true?

Members of the negotiations committee can address your concerns. Talk to us directly.

Who is on the negotiations committee for the Guild?

Graydon Royce, David Chanen, Pat Doyle, Dan Browning, Janet Moore, Maureen McCarthy, Jenna Ross, Paul Joppa, Ann Wilhelmy and Mike Bucsko, executive officer of the Minnesota Guild.

Who is negotiating for management?

Bob Schafer, Rene Sanchez, Eric Wieffering, company attorney Randy Lebedoff and Michael Seraphine from human resources, with guest appearances from Nancy Barnes and others.

What about the New Age bargaining with Restructuring Associates? How is that working out?

Two consultants from Restructuring Associates have been involved in mediating talks using the interest-based negotiations process. However, as time has passed, the process has become closer to traditional bargaining, though the consultants continue to act as facilitators.

Who is helping the committee from the Guild?

Mainly, it’s Mike Bucsko, a Pittsburgh native who recently joined the Minnesota Guild as executive officer. We’ve also been joined in the past week by Darren Carroll, an international representative from the Guild.

I want to help, what should I do?

Talk to Mike Kaszuba, who is vice chair of our mobilization effort.

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