The Newspaper Guild of Greater Philadelphia's tentative agreement with the owners of The Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, and calls for no increase in health-care costs and the end of unpaid furloughs for Guild members, the union said.

In an e-mail to its members Monday morning, the Guild announced that it had negotiated a two-year deal with Philadelphia Media Network that also included no changes to the health-care plan for at least the first year of the contract. Health care was one of two key issues in the negotiations, which concluded after a long session Friday.

A vote by members on whether to approve the proposed agreement will be set for next week, a union official said.

"Out of respect for the Guild and its members, PMN management isn't commenting on the tentative agreement until the Guild leadership has been able to communicate with members and schedule a vote," company spokeswoman Amy Buckman said.

Bill Ross, the Guild's executive director, said, "I'm glad Mr. Lenfest [publisher H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest] and the company recognized how important our members are to this operation, and that we avoided a work stoppage that would have crippled the company, which no one wanted."

On the key point of seniority in case of layoffs, the tentative agreement allows management to exempt up to 25 percent of any group targeted - reporters, for example - from seniority-based layoffs.

The exempted individuals, who can have any level of seniority, must be "deemed to be essential to the company's operations," the Guild said.

The Guild said, however, that it retained the right to fight what it considers "capricious exemptions" before layoffs happen.

PMN's financial contribution to employee health coverage was the most contentious issue in the negotiations to replace a contract that has been extended several times since it expired in February.

Currently, the company contributes just under $2.9 million to the health-insurance fund. In the first year of the contract, the company would pay an additional $1.4 million into the fund, for a total of about $4.3 million. In Year Two, the company contribution to the fund would drop to a total of $3.9 million.

The proposed contract also calls for a buyout offer, including 40 weeks' pay and six months of health care, for employees with 25 years' seniority. Further details were not available.

The union represents 445 employees at the newspapers and the website, including journalists, advertising sales representatives, and circulation personnel.

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