Members of the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild, which represents Times workers, voted 359 to 116 to ratify a new six-year contract and end their 49-day strike.
The new contract includes raises of $3.30 an hour over six years — nearly the same basic wage increase offered before the strike began — as well as improved medical benefits. The agreement also guarantees that all strikers will be rehired within six months.
Times officials said they will begin calling workers back to the office within five days. At least 200 of the 600 strikers are expected to return by the end of next week.
The Communications Workers of America, which represents about 80 production employees at the Times, also voted to ratify the contract.
“We are pleased our employees have ratified the contracts and we can begin the process of reuniting our workforce,” said Mason Sizemore, president of The Seattle Times, in a press release. “We are ready to put our differences behind us and work together.”
But it’s not all good news for Times employees. Executives at the newspaper say the company lost millions of dollars in advertising and circulation revenues during the seven-week strike. They told the Post-Intelligencer, Seattle’s other daily newspaper, that lost revenue will force the paper to cut its workforce by 10 percent.
“We have taken a significant hit financially,” Sizemore said.
Building an agreement
The Times deal was similar to an offer ratified last week by employees of the Post-Intelligencer, who had walked out with their Times colleagues, demanding benefits and pay scale changes.
Although the papers operate competing newsrooms, the business, advertising and production operations for both newspapers are headed by the Times under a joint operating agreement.
The Times, with its 220,000 daily circulation, is the largest newspaper in Washington, and is still controlled by descendants of founder Alden J. Blethen, who own 50.5 percent of the company’s shares. The other 49.5 percent of the company is owned by media conglomerate Knight Ridder. The Post-Intelligencer is owned by the Hearst Corp. and has a circulation of 175,800.
Negotiators came to a final agreement on the contract’s terms during meetings in the Washington, D.C. offices of U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.).
Union spokesman Ron Judd told reporters Monday the Times’ Guild members were ready to get back on the job.
“I’m relieved,” he said. “I don’t think [the strike] was necessary, but the Times [management] forced it on employees of both newspapers.”
Times workers rejected a contract offer last week, according to newspaper The Seattle Union Record, a new paper published jointly by striking workers from both dailies during the walkout. The sticking point was the company’s back-to-work language, which alluded to layoffs for returning strikers, but promised to protect the jobs of some 200 Guild members who chose to break ranks and return to work.