A deal is finalized in the wee hours March 1 after a 17-hour bargaining session. Photo by John Small.
BNA workers didn’t know what to expect at the bargaining table from their new owner, Bloomberg, but they feared the worst.
The company’s first volley last November bore that out, with skyrocketing health care costs for workers and rollbacks in overtime, job security language and the freedom to telework, among other demands.
Three months later, Guild negotiators emerged from a marathon bargaining session with a three-year deal with no major givebacks, preserving workers’ benefits, raising their wages and sweetening the company’s contribution to their 401(k) plan. Members overwhelmingly ratified the agreement March 14.
Workers will pay more toward their health care, “but no where near what the company wanted,” said Laura Francis, the acting chair of the Bloomberg-BNA unit of the Washington-Baltimore Guild.
Chief negotiator Paul Reilly said, “In total, their initial proposal would have shifted more than $4 million to employees, and we estimate that it’s now around $600,000 over three years. In contrast, the pay raises total about $5.3 million”
The pay hikes average 10.5 percent over three years, Reilly said, much higher than the “miniscule” raises the company first offered.
Among other demands, Bloomberg wanted to remove 70 jobs from the bargaining unit. The Guild stood firm. And the company itself quickly pulled a proposal that would have taken away a special benefit: The opportunity for long-term employees to take a sabbatical.
International Guild Representative Bruce Nelson said that when Bloomberg bought the company, once known as the Bureau of National Affairs, it “sent shock waves through the Guild leadership at BNA.
“This was an employee-owned company with a culture very unlike most of corporate America,” Nelson said. “Sure, they had their differences with management from time to time, but there was an environment of mutual respect and cooperation. The fear was that Bloomberg would change all of that.”
Within days of the sales announcement in 2011, Nelson said “Local and unit Guild leaders started planning for very different negotiations. They organized new members and mobilized the old ones, all in order to go to that bargaining table with a show of force.”
In February, about 75 members turned out for a rally outside the company’s Arlington, Va., headquarters, with signs that read “Solidarity” among other slogans.
“It’s always good, every now and then, to get the members out to show support and let management know that people are sticking together,” said Francis, who is a reporter/editor for the news bureau’s workplace immigration report.
Francis said she’s not sure Bloomberg, an overwhelmingly non-union company, knew what to make of the Guild.
“I think Bloomberg was probably confused with how to deal with the union, because they never had before. There was a sentiment that they were going to come in and destroy the union, but up until bargaining, we had actually felt their presence very little,” she said.
Even at the table, Bloomberg was all but invisible, she said, represented by longtime BNA managers.
Around 2:30 a.m. March 1, after a 17-hour session, Guild negotiators and managers were shaking hands on a tentative deal.
“The members’ hard work paid off,” Nelson said. “Bloomberg was obviously persuaded that while a protracted contract fight might save them a few bucks it would also damage a productive work environment that has produced great results for this company.”