For those who find the Guild’s contract to be confusing and often impenetrable, we bring you the first edition of our “Get To Know Your Union” handbook. This is an attempt to translate our contract into English, a Cliff’s Notes version of our contract, if you will. This handbook exists in booklet form, of course, as well as here, in electronic form. This will be a work in progress, so if you have any suggestions for alterations or additions, please let us know.
Congratulations on your membership in The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh. You are part of a team with a long and storied history dating to 1934. As a member of The Newspaper Guild (sometimes known as just The Guild), you stand with union members from some of the largest and most respected media organizations in the country, including The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Associated Press and, of course, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
If the Newspaper Guild represents your first experience with a union, you might be asking yourself some questions, such as: What will being in a union mean for me? What does the contract mean? Will I have to go on strike? Where does my dues money go? Who are my Guild leaders, and what do they do?
Starting a new job can be stressful. The last thing your union leaders want is to make that experience worse by leaving you with a bunch of unanswered questions. This handbook is meant to simplify information about your union and to encourage you to embrace The Newspaper Guild as a valuable part of your life. Think of the Guild as a friend that is always looking out for you.
This is your guide. Your fellow Guild members created it, and your comments will help to make sure it evolves and continues to meet the needs of new members, so please let us know how we can make it better.
What is a union ?
If you’ve never been part of a union before, you might not know how they work. A union is organized group of workers who come together to ensure that they and their fellow employees have respect and security on the job, earn better wages and benefits, and are provided with safe working conditions. These wages, benefits and working conditions are laid out in collective bargaining agreements, or contracts, which are, basically, rule books for the workplace, spelled out in writing by your union leaders and the people who run the company.
When employees come together as part of a union, their collective voice provides a strong, unified counterbalance to the otherwise unchecked power of employers.
Also, a union is a legal entity. That means that you won’t get in trouble for joining the union, and that your employer is required to negotiate with the union and is obligated to follow the rules that are in our contract.
Why do I need The Guild?
Unions like the NewsGuild (or TNG) have been an important part of many workplaces for more than a century. Many unions were formed by employees looking for a way to fight unhealthy working conditions, the use of undera
You may have heard the phrase “there’s safety in numbers.” That’s a perfect description of the usefulness of a union, even in a 21st century workplace, and even when your employer seems friendly and harmless.
If you have a problem on the job, would you rather face that problem alone, or with the support of all of your co-workers? One person might be strong, but imagine the strength of hundreds of your fellow workers standing behind you.
Being a member of the Newspaper Guild also provides you with job security, a benefit non-union workers simply don’t have.
Job security means that your boss can’t just tell you, “you’re fired” because you’re having a bad day. And you can’t be laid off so your boss can hire his son or daughter to take your place. The contract between the Guild and the company provides rules for employee layoffs and firings, and the Guild makes sure that nobody loses their job without a just and sufficient reason. The part of the contract that ensures your job security and lays out rules for layoffs is commonly known as the “security clause.” [Article VII in your contract]. In general, the clause makes sure that the longer you remain in your job, the more secure you will be. This concept, known as seniority, is one of the bedrock principles of unionism.
Also, your union is there to make sure that your wages are fair and that you have adequate health, retirement and other benefits. Through collective bargaining (another way of saying group negotiations), unions have helped raise the standard of living for tens of millions of American workers. As of 2007, numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that the typical union worker’s pay and benefits were about 30 percent higher than what workers in comparable non-union jobs received.
What does the union do?
Well, one big answer is that the union protects you and your job, and the jobs of your Guild co-workers. The union does this chiefly by maintaining and protecting its jurisdiction over the work that Guild members do. That means that, except in special cases that are spelled out in the contract, all of the journalistic work produced for the Post-Gazette or the PG Web site must be done by a member of The Newspaper Guild.
The first page of your Newspaper Guild contract defines this jurisdiction, and proclaims the Guild as the “sole collective bargaining agency” for newsroom employees at the Post-Gazette. This means that if you are hired as a journalist at the Post-Gazette (unless you are a member of management), you automatically become a member of the Guild, and your job and the work that you do is automatically protected by the union.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. The company is allowed to pay stringers, or free-lance writers and photographers, to supplement the work that Guild members do for the paper, but these workers are not members of the union, and are not allowed to be used to replace union workers. The same is true of the students who work as unpaid interns, and the members of management who occasionally write for the paper.
What are my dues, and where do they go?
You may notice that each time you get paid, a little bit of money goes to the Newspaper Guild. This payment is known as your Guild dues. Consider your dues (which amount to 1.3846% of your pay) as an investment, not a tax. It’s like buying an insurance policy, so that when you need help later, your union is there for you.
Whether your dues money is used for bargaining a better contract, defending a co-worker’s rights, solving a problem in the workplace, or organizing a social gathering, the aim is the same: to improve the quality of life for Guild members.
Here’s an idea of how your dues money is spent: About 53 percent of the money goes to your local, which is the small group of workers in your town or workplace. The Pittsburgh Guild local, No. 38061 (each local has a unique ID number), represents about 260 journalists at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, as well as workers at the Valley Independent newspaper in Monessen, Pa., and professors at Point Park University in downtown Pittsburgh. Your local uses its share of your dues money to cover the cost of representing employees in disputes and negotiating contracts, as well as for union publications, meetings, training programs and maintaining the local office (on the second floor of the United Steelworkers Building, next door to the Post-Gazette).
Another 36 percent of your dues goes to the Newspaper Guild international union, the “umbrella” that includes all the Guild locals in the United States , Canada and Puerto Rico that make up the 30,000-member Newspaper Guild. In turn, the Guild sector is part of an even larger umbrella union, the Communications Workers of America (or CWA), which has more than half a million members working in every segment of the economy.
Finally, 11 percent of your money goes to the CWA’s Member Relief Fund. This fund includes money from every member and is used to provide support for people who need financial help because they have been forced to go on strike or who have been locked out by their employers.
Does this mean I will go on strike?
No. The vast majority of contract negotiations and disputes are resolved without a strike or a lockout. Most union leaders and employers consider such a work stoppage to be a last resort.
A strike, or an organized effort by union members to stop working until their needs are met, is a big weapon the union has against the company, but it’s a weapon that the Guild will use sparingly, usually only when it has no other option.
A lockout, similar in effect to a strike, is an effort by a company to prevent employees from working until the company’s demands are met.
Sometimes, the Guild and the company will have disputes that aren’t covered by the contract, or about which the two sides disagree. These disputes are known as grievances, and the contract lays out procedures for the union and company to address them (Article XVI).
If these disputes can’t be resolved through the process outlined in the contract, they are referred to arbitration, a process by which a neutral third party decides the outcome. In other cases, they are resolved with a document called a memorandum of understanding, or MOU. These are settlements negotiated between the Guild and the company, just like the contract.
Is the Guild the only union at the PG?
No. There are more than a dozen unions at the PG, and they represent almost every worker in the company. Leaders of these unions meet regularly as the Unity Council, which ensures that all the unions at the Post-Gazette help each other, look out for each other, and work together to solve problems that affect everyone.
What are your rights as a union member? That’s a big question, and there are more answers than we can include here.
But the most important answer is this: You have the right to be represented by your union at all times. If your boss, or another member of management, asks to meet with you, and you feel like you might be in trouble, you are always allowed to (and should) ask the union for help and bring a union member with you. This rule, affirmed by the Supreme Court, has become known as your Weingarten Rights.
Some of your other rights, guaranteed by the contract, include fair wages, paid vacation, health and retirement benefits, and overtime.
Here’s a quick summary:
Vacation, personal days, holidays
Every Guild employee is entitled to paid time off that falls into various categories. The most common are vacation days, personal days, holidays and sick days.
The amount of vacation time you get is based on how long you’ve worked for the company, and the numbers are spelled out in the contract (Article XI). New employees receive one week of vacation after the first six months on the job, and two weeks after one full year. As you continue to work, you gain more vacation, up to a maximum of four weeks per year. The contract also spells out the procedure for requesting time off, allows for limits on the number of people who can take vacation at one time, and explains other vacation-related issues. If you have any problems or questions about how and when to use your vacation time, check the contract or ask a union representative.
Each employee also has a handful of personal days (the contract calls them “personal holidays”) each year that they may take any time, so long as they let their boss know in advance. These personal days are subject to the same limitations as vacation days.
The Guild contract also provides six paid holidays each year: New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. In most cases, employees are either given these days off, with pay, or given an extra day’s pay that week, if they have to work during the holiday.
Sick days, LONG-TERM SICK LEAVE, funeral leave, FMLA and unpaid leave
If you are sick and can’t make it to work, you should notify your supervisor as soon as possible that you need to take a sick day. Each Guild member is entitled to sick leave for short-term illnesses like a cold or the flu (Article VII). For other illnesses that might require more time off, each Guild member also accumulates a certain amount of long-term sick leave based on the number of years they have worked for the company.
Other types of paid and unpaid leave (Article XV) include funeral or bereavement leave, union leave, military leave, parental leave or FMLA leave, all of which have their own unique requirements and provisions in the contract. But the basic idea is the same: If you have to take time off because you’re sick, or because you’re in the military, or because a family member is sick or dies, the company can’t fire you or discipline you, and your job will be waiting for you when you come back.
According to the contract (Article IV), your workday consists of eight hours (or nine if you take an hour for lunch). That means that if you work nine or ten hours or more, you are entitled to overtime pay (Article V). Overtime beyond 40 hours in a week is paid at time and a half, which means that for every two hours of overtime you work, you get paid for three. In addition, if you are called back into the office after you’ve gone home, you’re entitled to four hours of overtime pay. And if you have to work from home on the newspaper or the Web site after your workday is done, you’re entitled to at least an hour of overtime pay. And while the company does not have to approve overtime in advance, it’s always a good idea to let your boss know when you think an assignment might require more time than you have left in your day. That way, he or she can decide what to do.
When you work overtime, you should report the extra hours to your boss (in writing or via e-mail) as soon as possible. Don’t forget, overtime is a right, not a privilege. Your work and your time are valuable, so make sure you get paid what you deserve.
These rights listed above are all part of the contract, which is renewed every three to five years or so, and has been built over many decades through repeated negotiations between the union and the company. The contract is binding, which means the company (or the union) can’t decide to just change something in it without the two sides sitting down and agreeing to the change.
Every few years, a half dozen or so of your co-workers negotiate a new contract with the company. This process usually takes several months, and the meetings are open for Guild members to observe. Before each contract expires, your union leaders will ask for your opinion on the issues that are important
to you, which helps the negotiators figure out how to approach the upcoming contract talks.
How much will I get paid?
The section on wages (Article III) is likely one of the most widely read parts of the Guild contract. There are many job descriptions, categories and wage levels listed there, but the basic rules apply to each one: You can’t be paid less than the minimum wage for your experience and job category, and you will make more money the longer you work for the company. For full-time employees, raises are guaranteed after six months, after one year and each year thereafter, up to the fourth year.
Also, for people who work a variety of jobs, the contract includes the payment of differentials. In short, a differential is an additional payment made when an employee does a job with a higher wage than the job he or she is normally paid to do.
For example, if you are a reporter but are asked to work for two days as a copy editor, you would be paid, just for those two days, the difference between your salary and the starting salary for a copy editor. You can report differentials to your supervisor in writing or via e-mail, the same as overtime.
The union contract provides health insurance coverage (Article XX) for all Guild employees (including prescription drug, dental and vision benefits). These benefits are paid for jointly between the company and the employees, with each employee contributing 5 percent of their wages toward their health coverage, and the company paying the rest.
The contract also provides life insurance for employees of one year’s salary up to $50,000.
The contract does not include all the features and details of the Guild’s insurance coverage, but any questions can be directed to the Human Resources department on the fourth floor of the Post-Gazette offices, or to your nearest Guild representative. Health care can be complicated, and we know you’ll have questions, so we’ll make sure to help you find the answers.
How long is my probationary period?
The first three months of every new employee’s tenure
is known as his or her probationary period. During this time, employees are not included in the Guild’s insurance coverage
and are not protected by the layoff provisions of the security
clause. However, beyond that, all other aspects of the contract are
What if I want to try another job someday?
The Guild contract requires the company to announce (usually via e-mail) any new or vacant jobs it intends to fill (Article XIII). This process gives Guild members the chance to try new things and let their bosses know they’re ready to move on.
What if I still have questions?
There are plenty of other things the union and the contract do that haven’t been mentioned yet, including making sure the company reimburses you for work-related expenses, and making sure that your byline or credit line is not used if you don’t want it to be. This handbook is only an introduction to what the union does for you.
So far, we’ve probably answered some of your questions about the union and the contract. But if you still have more, what should you do? The first answer is: Come to a meeting. The Guild holds meetings at least once every three months (usually in March, June, September and December), and holds other social gatherings throughout the year. These events and meetings are widely publicized via e-mail and on posters in the office, and you’re welcome at all of them.
Also, get to know your executive board. They could be sitting right next to you. The Pittsburgh Guild local has an executive committee of officers whose job is to oversee the union. The officers, elected each fall, are your fellow Guild members, your co-workers, your friends.
The executive committee members are there to help you, to look out for you and to answer your questions, so don’t be shy. Also, the contact information for the Guild office (where Guild committees regularly meet and conduct their business) can be found on our website: www.pghguild.com. So don’t hesitate to call or write if you have a question.