Guild Reporters at Impasse with Thomson Reuters

To put it mildly, Thomson Reuters management and Guild reporters are at odds over the current contract. Tempers are flaring, but ultimately a whole lot of nothing is happening fast.

In early November, Guild members distributed leaflets at a described “peaceful candlelight vigil” at the Manhattan home of Thomson Reuters CEO Tom Glocer. The main dispute: An overall compensation cut that includes a doubling of health care contributions that are deducted from paychecks. On Nov. 4, management returned to the bargaining table for a full day of talks, which seemed promising, but they resolved nothing. Management would like a deal signed by Dec. 15. Guild members say chances of that are slim if not impossible.

“This is a really tough situation and a really long running negotiation,” Guild Unit Chair and Washington Environment correspondent Debby Zabarenko told FishbowlDC in a phone interview today. “We’ve been negotiating for over two years. I can’t say when or how, but I think eventually I think we’re going to get a deal everyone can live with. What’s on the table now is not something we can live with.”

U.S. and Canada Thomson Reuters Managing Editor Jack Reerink did not return calls seeking comment.

Zabarenko explained her title “Unit Chair” is the top post in the Guild, which has some 400 members nationwide. She explained the title was intended to sound “less sexist.”  How will the problems resolve? “If I knew specifically what that would take that would be great,” she said. “We’re working on as many fronts as we can. We are challenging the company at the National Labor Relations Board and in Federal Court.”

The Guild ripped management in a recent letter, saying, “Glocer should be embarrassed to make $46 million in the last two years and opine about corporate responsibility and the income gap, while cutting members’ compensation.”

In addition, Justice Department correspondent Jeremy Pelofsky spelled out strong feelings in a letter addressed to “Reerink and Editors” that he titled “Honor.” Read excerpts of it after the jump…

He wrote, “I feel compelled to speak up for those of us deep in the trenches who toil every day for the crown jewel of this company and produce the stellar and exclusive news day in and day out.”

Ultimately Pelofsky believes the company is not honoring its reporters or entirely the larger mission of news reporting. “We must have it in order to produce the news that we do, for our sources to trust us and for our clients to believe what we put over the wire. Most within the Reuters structure have lived up to that commitment, however the company as a whole has not done so with its employees in the Guild. I am speaking about honoring the contract that Reuters signed (and Thomson Reuters assumed after the acquisition). Our contract explicitly included a clause that kept the current contract in force until a new one was signed. Thomson Reuters has not fully honored that contract or commitment, and to deleterious effect.”

Pelofsky’s Version of the Problems

1) Numerous jobs have been left vacant for far too long. Sometimes it has been to save money, other times it has been because the compensation packages were insufficient, and in some cases, the hiring process was stymied because upper level jobs were also left unfilled for long periods of time as well.

2) In some cases, new editors have been hired who have never managed a team before and are not given the necessary training and tools to do their jobs effectively.

3) While there have been some positions filled, reporters continue to be asked to do more with less. Report on additional stories, work longer hours, and adjust their schedules at a moment’s notice with little or no appreciation – verbal or financial. A handful of senior investigative reporters have been hired, which has helped a bit. However, it has not filled all the gaps or been the magic bullet to solve the remaining holes in our coverage.

4) Senior editors have decided to allocate resources in ways that are confusing and not very well-reasoned – raising questions particularly when we are constantly reminded about tight resources. For example, Reuters has decided to build a team focused on secondary general news stories, such as tornadoes and earthquakes that do not result in major damage. Why aren’t those resources used to build a bigger investigative team to focus on covering the Securities and Exchange Commission? The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg have teams of reporters to cover the SEC and related issues, for example. While not all of the decisions of our competitors deserve attention and following, this seems like one model we should follow and has been a beat understaffed for far too long.

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