Members of the union representing most newsroom, advertising and other workers at The Baltimore Sun decided with a voice vote to approve a three-year contract extension Wednesday night that will freeze wages for the first two years while raising the company's contribution to 401(k) retirement plans.
Most of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild leadership had recommended approval, calling the plan a better deal than many other journalists have received during the past few years — despite the wage provision and a permanent benefit freeze under the company pension plan.
"They accepted the extension rather than engage in the contract battle," said Cet Parks, executive director of the Guild, adding that some members expressed concern over wage freezes.
The Guild represents about 225 employees at The Baltimore Sun — fewer than half the workers it did when the last contract was approved four years ago.
"We believe this is a good deal for all parties involved," Timothy E. Ryan, president, publisher and CEO of the Baltimore Sun Media Group, said in a statement. "We have very positive momentum with our business plan at this time, and we are pleased to have the entire team stay focused on the significant opportunities for growth at hand."
The Sun's parent, the Tribune Co., could emerge from bankruptcy proceedings later this year.
The agreement with the Guild will mean a 401(k) contribution increase to 3.5 percent of employees' base pay rather than 2.5 percent. Workers can expect raises in the third year of $10 a week with the possibility of more based on performance, averaging an additional $15 a week.
Talks regarding renewal of the current four-year contract, which expires June 26, weren't expected in earnest until later in the year. The new plan was a rare early offer, and Guild leaders said both sides would have headed into full bargaining had it been voted down.
Current employees would get pension benefits — though frozen at current levels — while employees hired after June 26 would not be eligible, which troubled Larry Carson, a reporter and suburban vice chairman of the Guild unit.
"Losing the pension is a major loss, and it's a permanent loss," Carson said.