WASHINGTON — Federal mediation talks to resolve contract problems between United Press International and the union representing its editorial workers broke off Thursday, the federal mediator said.
Federal mediator Ed McMahon adjourned the talks shortly after midnight because no progress appeared likely, said Dan Carmichael, secretary treasurer of the Wire Service Guild. The union represents 750 employees, most of them editors, reporters and photographers who are covered by a contract that expires in April, 1986.
The mediation efforts began Aug. 14 after UPI withdrew its request to a federal bankruptcy judge to cancel the guild contract and make the company more attractive to prospective purchasers.
"There has been no movement. The parties have adjourned without recall," Dennis Minshall, director of public affairs for the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, said Thursday morning.
"Future negotiations are subject to the mediator's report to the judge," he added, declining further elaboration.
Both sides blamed the other for intransigence in the talks.
"What happened was there was no perceptible movement on the part of the union toward considering the proposals that UPI had put on the table," UPI spokesman David Wickenden said.
Guild President William Morrissey said in a prepared statement: "We still await some kind of recognition that UPI takes our problems seriously and is willing to solve them,"
UPI, which filed for protection from creditors under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code on April 28, has sought wage and benefit concessions from employees.
Wickenden released a company statement that said in part:
"The guild negotiating committee has once again refused to consider any concessions aimed at a successful restructuring of the company. In six days of meetings, the union negotiators flatly refused to discuss concessions. . . . It seems futile to continue to meet with a committee, some of whose members have openly advocated the demise of UPI."
"The company is attempting to impose a new round of pay and benefit concessions, and we have refused," said Carmichael. He noted that last year the employees took a 25% pay cut and since then have received raises that brought them to just 95% of what they were making in April, 1984.
Concessions that Wickenden said UPI was seeking were:
- A six-month delay in the final phase of restoring salary levels.
- Instituting a 40-hour work week for all employees, to replace the 37 1/2-hour week worked by some employees now.
- Reduction of company pension fund contributions and severance entitlements.
Carmichael said the union had proposed that UPI save $500,000 during the last four months of this year by reducing the number of managers and guild-exempt employees. But Wickenden said those ranks already had dropped 100 people since last year, and he quoted UPI Chairman Luis Nogales as saying the guild proposal was "a pernicious attempt to continue to put out propaganda that is divisive and harmful to the company."
The guild said in a statement Thursday that the average monthly salary of guild-covered workers is $2,158, compared to an average of $3,231 for management and non-guild workers.
UPI in July had asked U.S. Bankruptcy Judge George Bason to void the current contract because the union rejected changes in the pact that UPI wanted to make the company more attractive to potential buyers and investors.
When UPI withdrew the request, the guild, in return, dropped plans to ask its members for strike authorization. The guild said in its statement that management had not responded to several union requests.
The guild said it tried unsuccessfully to get UPI to provide financial information--on the number of UPI client cancellations, UPI's balance sheet through July and work sheets used to calculate UPI's financial position--to the union's accountant. But in its statement, UPI said it had "supplied literally thousands of financial documents."
The guild also said it wanted the stock that UPI promised employees in August in partial return for their wage concessions. Wickenden said that stock has been delivered to a Washington lawyer who is acting as trustee for the stock.
The guild said it also wants the company to resume meetings of its executive committee, which was abolished shortly after two union representatives won seats on the panel under previous concession agreements. Wickenden said the committee was disbanded because the company's hierarchy was restructured.