A union representing 650 reporters, editors, circulation employees and other workers at The Baltimore Sun Co. approved a three-year contract late Saturday, averting a strike but leaving some members unhappy with the deal.
The Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild voted 269 to 97 to approve the contract after company negotiators agreed Saturday to delay higher employee contributions for health coverage and to restrict the company's ability to assign Guild-covered work to outside contractors.
The contract gives each member a lump sum of $2,500 in its first year and average raises of $19 per week in its second and third years. Under the contract that expired at midnight Saturday, the top minimum pay for a reporter at The Sun was $958 per week, or $49,816 annually; top minimum for an advertising salesperson was $934 per week, or $48,568 a year.
At the same time, the deal gives management more flexibility to shift workers among tasks and departments. For example, ad salespeople will now be able to sell not only for The Sun but also for monthlies Maryland Family and Fifty Plus or any online products the company might offer.
"The contract creates some real opportunity for new ways to expand the business," said Michael Shultz, spokesman for The Baltimore Sun Co.
The contract also requires all Guild-covered workers to participate in managed-care health insurance, which includes health maintenance organizations, and to pay more for insurance premiums and medical services starting in July 1997.
Some members contended that the contact would not allow Guild-covered employees, who make up about 40 percent of the company's work force, to keep up with inflation.
"The pay made people very unhappy because giving the lump sum is a cheap way of making people think they're getting a raise when they're not," said Kathy Lally, a reporter for The Sun and a Guild negotiating committee member who voted against the contract.
The new health package, she added, "forces a lot of people to give up their doctors, and over the life of the contract people have to pay more for that lesser plan."
Shultz's response: "The contract is in line with what the management of the paper has, in terms of the size of the raises people are getting and the health-care package. And it is in line with what other unions have negotiated."
Guild leaders had feared that the company's initial proposals for worker-assignment flexibility would have allowed the company to hire outside contractors to do Guild-covered work, eroding the union's jurisdiction.
On Saturday, the company agreed to accept restrictions on hiring contractors and free-lancers.
"There are still things in the contract that we're not happy with, but it's the best we felt we could do under the circumstances," said Carol Rosenblatt, Guild administrative officer.