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Did You Know?

Session 10: An attempt to change the game

In response to suggestions from several members, and after reviewing the company’s financial statements Tuesday with our accountant, the Guild made an on-the-record proposal to the company bargaining team for a one-time, without-precedent, negotiated, enhanced, voluntary buyout before any layoffs might be undertaken if the sides can't reach agreement before the company's artificial Oct. 31 deadline to make good on its threats to institute a drastic pay cut and layoffs.

In the presence of federal mediator Gerard Gomez, the Guild told the company such an offer would seem to make a lot of sense, given the company’s artificial deadline for agreement, or the prospect of six layoffs and an immediate pay cut for remaining members. It could take the pressure off the current situation, and, in the Guild’s opinion, could create substantial savings that could negate the necessity for the drastic measures the company has proposed.

The company’s response was very cool. Without hearing or discussing any specifics of the Guild’s idea, company spokesperson Sharon Ciechon said the company team doesn’t think it would create substantial savings, but that the company would look at it and that Vice President of Finance Joyce Levesque would be looking at the numbers. “It’s something to be paid out, an additional expense,” she said. “It is not a cost savings – it is cost prohibitive.”

The Guild disagrees. The idea would be to negotiate a deal whereby a certain segment of the Guild workforce would be offered the opportunity to voluntarily leave employment in return for company-paid health care for a certain period, or until they reach Medicare eligibility. Yes, the proposal might cost an additional outlay initially, to pay for the insurance (which laid off employees wouldn't receive), and a certain amount of additional severance, assuming more senior members availed themselves of the offer, but the company would need to pay for that insurance anyway if members who might have taken a buyout continue to work, and the outlay for severance would be offset by the company's ability to wipe it off its books as a liability. There are other benefits to the idea as well.

Most importantly, if adopted, any additional costs associated could be offset, and company savings actually increased, via more people taking the buyout than the company is considering laying off if Guild members reject its proposal or an agreement isn't reached before the artificial Oct. 31 deadline. Those savings, whatever they might be, could mitigate the need for the company's drastic proposals, could eliminate the company's "need" for the explosive and pressurized deadline, and could move the company and Guild "closer apart" as they try to reach an agreement acceptable to both sides. As the offer woud be voluntary for members, it could alter the dynamic of the entire bargaining process -- a real game-changer.

The Guild awaits a definitive company response.

Regarding the financial review, while acknowledging there are some company-specific concerns and industry trends that need to be addressed, it is the opinion of the Guild’s accountant that the company currently is not remotely close to being in dire straits, certainly not to the degree the company bargaining team has implied at the table.

The company and Guild have agreed to meet Wednesday in the absence of federal mediator Gerard Gomez, and have agreed to an additional meeting next Monday, Oct. 24, with Mr. Gomez present. In addition, the Guild has tentatively scheduled an emergency membership meeting for next Wednesday, Oct. 26 at 4:30 p.m. at the NH Food Bank to discuss and perhaps vote on the company's proposal, which hasn't changed since it's initial offer Sept. 12.

Most of the rest Tuesday's session consisted of the Guild going through the company's proposal line by line, in an attempt to determine exactly which portions of it the company believes will gain it the financial relief it says it needs.