Journalists and other union members at the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com have decisively rejected a contract offer that would have provided solid, same-cost health insurance but eliminate seniority protections in the event of a layoff.
The vote on the three-year deal was 186-79, guild officials said Wednesday night.
"We're very pleased with the tremendous voter turnout from our very democratic union," said guild president Howard Gensler. "Our goal now is to meet with the company as soon as possible and fix these issues."
The contract between the Newspaper Guild and Philadelphia Media Network, owner of the three publications, expires in July, by which time the guild Health and Welfare Fund is projected to have run out of money. In that case, the company said in a letter to guild members, the owners will have to provide health insurance "at rates that cannot be predicted today."
"We feel that a great opportunity to resolve this contract well ahead of expiration was missed," said PMN Publisher Terry Egger. "We move forward from here."
Negotiations that began in January did not produce a tentative agreement. Instead, this month the company made a final offer, which guild leaders did not endorse but put to a vote of the membership. Under the proposal:
• Guild members would leave the union Health and Welfare Fund for the more advantageous Teamsters Vicinity Fund. The company would pay greater costs to keep members' weekly contributions the same during the first year, and would cover increases up to 6 percent in the second and third years.
• Some Philly.com workers would get pay raises, as their contract would merge with that of the main unit. Others get no raises.
• Guild members would receive a $500 signing bonus, and a pledge of no layoffs for six months.
Currently, in a layoff, managers may exempt up to 25 percent of workers in a job category. The new proposal said length of service would become one of four primary factors in deciding who stays, the others being performance, qualifications, and skills and abilities.