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New York Times to begin talks with guild on new contract

New York Times to begin talks with guild on new contract
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The New York Times is to begin negotiations on a new contract Thursday with representatives from the NewsGuild of New York. 

The current agreement with the Times expires March 31, said Bill Baker, unit chair for the union at the NY Times, though the most recent deal wasn’t actually agreed to and signed until Dec. 6, 2017, according to a NewsGuild press release. 

“The current contract is officially up on the 31st,” Baker said. “We’re hoping it won’t take as long this time around. Obviously it won’t get done until April, but I’m hoping it’s not a year and a half either.”

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According to a person familiar with the schedule, the negotiations are being held virtually and will include 17 people representing the Guild and 10 representing management at the paper.

The union would not immediately be disclosing its top goals for the new contract, said Baker, before adding that he would describe management’s relationship with the union as typically genial. 

A spokesperson for the Times would only say that the media outlet was “looking forward to negotiations with the Guild.”

The previous contract included a 2.5 percent signing bonus for union members as well as 2 percent raises on Jan. 1 and March 31, 2018. The contract also called for 2 percent increases in 2019 and 2020.

Also, in a first, under the old contract, Guild members were guaranteed a year of medical coverage after being laid off as well as short and long-term disability plans for staffers who took medical leave.

The Times has experienced several personnel controversies this year, including the departure of veteran global health reporter Donald McNeil, in the wake of a race-related controversy, and audio journalist Andy Mills, over past allegations of unwanted touching and sexual harassment.

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The paper also issued a harsh self-appraisal — begun after last year’s racial unrest — examining diversity and the work culture at the media giant. More recently, Times columnist David Brooks resigned from a think-tank job he held over conflict of interest concerns.

Less than three weeks later, the Times created a new committee to review outside work offered to its journalists that would be competitive with its journalism and business or present a conflict with that work, the paper said in an internal memo.

Baker said the union was not informed of the new committee beforehand and plans to talk to the Times about the policy.

The various controversies illustrate, Baker said, the challenges the Times faces in responding to changes in the media business and the cultural landscape.

“Something I’ve said before is that this is a very, very, very old institution...” Baker said, before explaining that the Times roots stretch back deeply into the era of newsprint. 

“It’s a huge ship, and it has to turn in these times, in a different era,” he added. So being 169 years old, being the behemoth that it is in the industry it has to adjust. It’s like growing pains, and it’s taking some time to turn this ship to be able to [get it to] go with the tide with the way the media is now.”