The New York Times’s future may be digital (NYT), but staffers who work for the web site will still be treated as second-class citizens, says the Newspaper Guild of New York in a memo obtained by SAI. The NYT and the Guild have resumed talks about future wages and benefits, and the NYT has reportedly dropped its plans to treat digital and physical employees equally:
In a stunning reversal, Times management Wednesday abruptly dropped its proposal to unite New York Times Digital and newspaper employees under one contract, jeopardizing efforts to fully integrate the two operations and relegating Digital workers to second-class status for at least another three years…
The Times dropped its proposal to eliminate the separate Digital contract and fold the workers in under the newspaper collective bargaining agreement. Instead, The Times proposed keeping separate contracts and extending the Digital agreement, which expires at the end of next month, to March 30, 2011, when the newspaper contract expires, with the same 2% wage increases newspaper employees are scheduled to receive eac March 31.
Why is the Times shafting digital staffers? According to the Guild, “various business reasons.”
What’s Going On Here
We can understand why NYT Digital employees are apoplectic about this–they’re the paper’s future, after all–but it’s also easy to guess at what NYT corporate’s “various business reasons” might be.
One of many reasons the newspaper industry has been so slow to adapt to the new online reality is the lack of flexibility that results from strong labour unions. By continuing to treat Digital employees differently, the NYT is likely preserving the ability to treat Digital as an entirely different business, one in which different pay scales apply.
In a town-hall meeting yesterday, editor Bill Keller acknowledged that there will come a day when the NYT stops printing a paper edition. If, by that time, the company has rebuilt a fully staffed newsroom with a far lower cost structure, it will be in a much stronger financial position.
What Is This, France?
We certainly have sympathy for Digital staffers wanting to be paid as much as their print brethren, and they deserve to be. On the other hand, some of the Guild’s other demands elicit less sympathy. For example, the Guild is outraged that the NYT is suggesting that print employees work 40 hours a week before they begin to collect time-and-a-half overtime pay:
[T]he company is still demanding that overtime be paid only after an employee works 40 hours in a week, as opposed to the current 34.5 hours on the day shift and 35 hours on the night side. This proposal alone would effectively cut pay for many staffers who currently work overtime regularly and could be forced to work up to five and a half hours of overtime — at straight time instead of time and a half.
SAI staffers, meanwhile, don’t get overtime for working 70 hours a week. Time for a guild!
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