Tuesday, October 17, 2006

CNS Goes On the Line

Staffers of the US church's official news service to hold "informational picket" tomorrow in DC; have been working without a contract since January... USCCB to raise employee share of health costs 50%, effective New Year's Day.
WASHINGTON -- Catholic News Service employees plan to demonstrate in front of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Oct. 18 to mark a year of unsuccessful contract bargaining and to protest CNS’s unwillingness to bargain with their union over pensions.

The employees are members of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild. Guild members at CNS have been working without a contract since Jan. 1, 2006, although bargaining on a new contract began in October 2005.

The employees plan to stage an hourlong informational picket during their lunch time to call attention to the fact that CNS, the news agency of the USCCB, is demanding that the Guild give up all bargaining rights over employees’ pensions. CNS is the main news agency that provides church news to diocesan newspapers in the United States, Canada and most of the English-speaking world.

In its bargaining demand, CNS management is insisting on a right to make any change it wishes in pensions, including possible termination of the pension plan, and to do so even in the middle of a contract, without going to the negotiating table with the union representing its employees.

The pension plan is administered by the USCCB, which recently announced a 50 percent increase in the worker share of health care costs as of Jan. 1, 2007 (from current 10 percent of total costs to 15 percent of total costs).

CNS is operated by the USCCB but is editorially and financially independent. It is funded by revenue from clients, primarily diocesan newspapers throughout the English-speaking world, and subscribers to its publications, which include Origins, a leading Catholic documentary service.

CNS employees are the only people on the USCCB staff who are unionized. Although the USCCB also administers health benefits for all employees, Guild members at CNS note that they have bargained with CNS management to obtain differences from the USCCB health plan on a number of occasions over the years. Ability to negotiate over pension benefits as well has been a part of the CNS-Guild contract for decades.

Since pensions are a federally mandated subject of bargaining under the National Labor Relations Act, the Guild members feel they cannot simply sign away their bargaining rights without serious injury to their basic rights as a union.

To Guild members it is clear that Catholic social teaching says workers have a right not only to a just wage but to “other benefits sufficient to sustain life in dignity” (U.S. bishops’ 1986 pastoral letter, “Economic Justice for All,” No. 103).

The U.S. bishops said in 1986 that “the dignity of workers also requires adequate health care (and) security for old age or disability” (No. 103) and that workers have a right to form unions “to secure their rights” on such concerns. Denying a union any voice whatsoever on workers’ pensions, one of the basic pillars of their economic security, conflicts with Catholic teaching on collective bargaining rights.

CNS Guild members say they find it difficult to understand why such an attack would come from an agency of the U.S. Catholic bishops.

The Guild has represented workers at Catholic News Service since 1972. The 20 workers it represents there include reporters, editors, photographers, librarians and clerical workers. The Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, which represents more than 3,000 employees in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area, is a local of the Communications Workers of America (AFL-CIO).