September 12, 2016

Will Lewis Responds, And Next Steps

More than 400 IAPE members from bureaus around the United States and in Canada signed letters to Dow Jones CEO Will Lewisobjecting to the company's troublesome stance in contract negotiations. This is a strong showing, and you clearly have gotten his attention.

Mr. Lewis responded late Friday — his letter to you is posted here. We credit Mr. Lewis for engaging during this crucial phase of the talks, but were somewhat puzzled by what he had to say. Our chief executive says the union's proposal for real wage increases is "unrealistic." And he suggests that better wages for everyone would make it harder for the company to improve newsroom diversity and properly compensate our best performers.

We certainly understand that challenges remain for our business, particularly with print advertising revenue. And we all want long term success for Dow Jones. But the amount of wage increases IAPE-represented employees are seeking is a small sum. And it's especially important that workers receive a real boost at a time when the company is demanding that we shoulder a heavier financial burden for health care coverage.

Here's what is unrealistic: Expecting DJ employees to accept the same meager 2% wage increases when the company is taking much of that compensation right back in higher health care costs.

The company is undeniably in a better financial position than during the last contract negotiations six years ago. And yet Dow Jones wants to impose upon you a contract that is worse for employees than the last one, and worse than what your peers receive in comparable newsrooms. This is unacceptable — a message that your letters make clear.

We fail to see how asking for better wages hampers company efforts to improve newsroom diversity. Union employees have been vocal supporters of this goal. DJ workers also have been vocal in urging the company to swiftly address gender pay gaps in the newsroom. It has been very slow to do so, even after acknowledging the problem months ago. Nothing about these contract negotiations prevents the company from righting this wrong.

As for properly compensating high performers, we fully support this goal as well. But as many of you know, merit raises have been almost nonexistent. We'll ask the company for more information on this.

Mr. Lewis believes the two sides are making "good progress" on health care negotiations. This is potentially true. We have agreed to consider exchanging the company's desire to cut compensation in the form of health benefits for meaningful increases in compensation in other forms of pay. Without that, we have no progress. We've been crystal clear with Dow Jones negotiators on this from the outset.

In a potential bright spot, Mr. Lewis says, "The two teams will continue to talk to reach agreement on pay." This statement appears to be an acknowledgement that the company is going to have to move from its current stale proposal. Otherwise it's not a conversation.

The two sides meet again Tuesday for a key bargaining session. We'll know more then about what to make of Mr. Lewis's position. If Dow Jones negotiators stick with their same hard line, you'll know they're doing so with our chief executive's full support. And unfortunately, that would mean his previous sunny messages to employees are rather empty.

The company would like a deal soon; so would we. IAPE already has worked hard to find a middle ground, scaling back several of our proposals to try to forge an agreement that's good for both sides. Future progress is going to depend in large part on the company's willingness to move to the center. We'll be back in touch after the next round of talks, hopefully with a positive report.