The long and contentious contract negotiations at the New York Times took an unexpected twist on Tuesday when the paper's management presented two different proposals for print and digital employees. The Times later spoke out about the move on Wednesday (see update below).
The paper explained its decision in a memo to staff obtained by The Huffington Post. Terry Hayes, the company's senior vice-president of operations and labor, said that the management preferred a single contract, but presented two separate contracts after the Newspaper Guild of New York refused to commit to negotiating one.
"We want a unified contract – it is the only way forward that makes sense for our journalism and our business," Hayes stated in the memo. "But the fact is we cannot get there unless the Guild agrees."
Meanwhile, the Guild blamed the Times, blasting the decision as "hostile" in a statement. The union argued that the move "would undo months of incremental progress toward a unified contract," especially after it had presented a pension plan for employees. That proposal was intended to address one of the biggest sticking points in the talks.
“Given the progress that we’ve made and the very real prospect of resolving the pension issue, we could have settled these negotiations to the satisfaction of both sides by September,” said New York Guild President Bill O’Meara. “Instead, what management has done will depress members’ flagging morale even further with the Summer Olympics, the heat of the election season and a presidential vote all looming.”
The Guild said that it believes the Times is trying to split the proposals as a legal maneuver to be able to impose a pension freeze and increased working hours on employees through a measure called an "impasse."
"If impasse is declared, the Guild would challenge the move at the National Labor Relations Board. A strike authorization vote, members' only other recourse, is another option," the statement read.
The negotiations between the Times and the Guild have taken many twists and turns. The paper's management enraged employees when it proposed freezing staff pension and ending independent heath care plans, amongst other things. Times staffers have released several videos harshly condemning the proposals, silently protested outside editorial meetings, and picketed the paper's shareholder meetings.
We want a unified contract – it is the only way forward that makes sense for our journalism and our business. But the fact is we cannot get there unless the Guild agrees.