The Memphis Newspaper Guild, representing workers at The Commercial Appeal, has reached seven tentative agreements with the metropolitan daily since negotiations for an updated contract began in June.
The contract, which went into effect in 2010, expired in May. The last round of negotiations lasted seven years.
"Each side is still feeling each other out," union president Wayne Risher said. "Because the last agreement took so long to reach, the guild expects it to take a long time."
One of the seven agreements will require the guild to keep names confidential during any layoffs, while the CA will negotiate with the guild within a two-week period to "alleviate hardships on the people losing their jobs." Other agreements changed language or removed unnecessary details in the contract, such as pay classification for custodians, a position that is now outsourced. Ultimately, all changes will be drafted into a final document, submitted to the guild, and voted on by its members to ratify.
The CA also agreed to adding "creed" to its antidiscrimination policy, but chief spokesman Richard C. Lowe said they wouldn't add sexual preference to the policy until Tennessee's nondiscrimination employments law changes. The guild accused the newspaper of being "behind the curve."
Negotiations have yet to approach issues of pay or time off. Other issues still need to be brought to the table, said Amy Olmstead, a member of the bargaining committee and office manager for the guild. Since its foundation in 1935, the union has been "trying to protect people's jobs, give them enough [salary] to help pay their bills," she said.
One issue that arose in the seven days of negotiation so far was the maintenance of the "evergreen clause," the part of the contract that keeps it in place after expiration while the two parties reach a consensus toward a new contract.
The CA side believed it wasn't as important this time around, Risher said. The evergreen clause protected union workers during the drawn-out bargaining between the guild and the company before the 2010 contract was ratified. The newspaper brought forth a federal lawsuit for that very clause: In 2004, the company declared it "unilaterally not valid." Two years later, a U.S. district judge denied the motion and sided with the guild.
According to Risher, conditions have been good at the CA office, thanks to union protections. The CA's managing editor, Louis Graham, was promoted to editor in June following former editor Chris Peck's retirement in March. However, with changes come new requirements on both sides of the negotiation table.
"We've had a lot of change here with a new editor," Risher said. "We have a big push in the newsroom to do more digital coverage. People are waiting to see what kind of training they will receive to do what the company wants them to do."
The CA representatives are Richard C. Lowe of Nashville law firm King & Ballow; Eunice Johnson, human resources director; and Warren Funk, former director of human resources. The bargaining committee for the guild is Jay Schmitz, Henry Bailey, David Felder, Amy Olmstead, and Wayne Risher.
"I know we'll come to an agreement. I just don't know when," Risher said.
The next negotiation session will take place in the offices at FedExForum on September 25th and 26th.
The Commercial Appeal would not return calls for comment.