I think I can say I have officially joined the Wave of the Future, which means:

  • We had a swell union contract in which the company paid all our health insurance premiums. The new one which we’ll be voting on soon obliges us to pay 20 percent of these premiums.
  • Our new contract also changes the way vacation pay is accrued in a way that will cost me $5,000 if I stay at the paper beyond the next couple years.
  • Our new contract freezes our pension and switches to a 401k. If I reduce my takehome pay by 6 percent, the company will match half of it. So instead of the company contributing to my pension fund — managed by financial professionals — I reduce my standard of living by another 6 percent and become wholly dependent on my ability to play the financial markets for the next 30 years. Good thing I majored in journalism.

Somebody at work mentioned a theory on why my employer decided to tell everybody we were subject to layoff rather than just those whose jobs were actually at risk: to ensure everybody felt the anxiety, to increase the likelihood that our union would accept these concessions. A hard-nosed tactic, for sure.

A lot of this sounds like a kick in the teeth — and I’ll definitely be buying fewer camping toys in the near future — but I’m working in a troubled industry: we know there will always be a demand for news, but these days we’re deeply unsure how to turn a buck tapping that demand. Until we figure that out there will probably be more demands for concessions, more anxiety over lost jobs, more of the bosses playing hardball. And more newsies sucking it up. Not like we’ve got much choice: The paper going broke is not useful to any of us.

Sometimes I wonder how much good a union is doing me, personally. Unions do help slackers keep their jobs and make it harder for the bosses to reward the workhorses. But I learned one thing on this latest contract negotiation: in tough times people have to band together to protect their interests.

Our company had a laundry list of far harsher concessions it could have imposed at will on a non-union shop. Management abandoned those ideas in the interest of getting what it needed most: us to pony up more of the cost of health care. Frankly, this was only fair.

Perhaps the greatest concession on the company’s part was accepting our union’s right to have a say in who does what jobs. Companies don’t hate unions because they demand better wages and benefits: they hate unions because unions challenge their power to do as they damn well please. Perfectly understandable from a manager’s standpoint.

In the current environment there is simply no way that I could’ve negotiated a better deal than the one our union negotiated. One copy editor has one copy editor’s sway. Which ain’t much.

Sure, unions are a pain in the ass, but sometimes they save your ass.