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By Monica Brady-Myerov (WBUR)
Early Wednesday morning, the Boston Globe’s largest union finally reached a deal with the paper’s owners, The New York Times Co., that will keep the Globe in business.
Few details of the agreement have been released until it is put before the members of the Boston Newspaper Guild on Thursday.
However, the Boston Globe’s web site reports the union gave in to the Times demand that it give up lifetime job guarantees for about 190 Guild members. The guarantees were granted by the Taylor family when it sold the paper to the Times in 1993.
Pressure mounted on Guild
The pressure was really building on the Guild since early Monday morning when two other unions that represent pressmen and mailers gave in to the Times’ demands that they modify the language of job guarantees.
None of the unions have released the wording of these deals, so it is unclear how far it goes. But, it is clearly a sea change for about 450 employees at the paper who had been guaranteed jobs for life — they could not be fired or laid off.
According to several Globe employees represented by the Guild, the union seemed divided in the building over these guarantees along generational lines. Older employees who have been at the paper since 1993 have this perk and younger employees do not. The older ones wanted to keep it and the younger ones wanted to give it up.
The real pressure to give in to the demands came in part from The New York Times when it reiterated its suggestion that instead it could cut pay by 23 percent. Another added pressure was the fact that the pressmen and the mailers were waiting to release their agreement for a vote until the Guild was done. The mailers union said that was not to imply the union would change its own deal if the Guild didn’t agree to the same, but for the sake of “seeing what happened.”
Few details of agreement
“We have a proposal to bring before the members of the Boston Newspaper Guild,” said Guild President Daniel Totten when he emerged from the talks around 3:30 on Wednesday morning. “Out of respect for our members, we are not releasing any details until we meet with the membership, and The New York Times has agreed to do the same thing. Thank you very much.”
The Boston Globe then released a statement confirming the company has ended negotiations and that they will not release details until the leadership speaks with Guild members on Thursday.
The details of other concessions remain unclear as of Wednesday morning. But on Sunday — the last time the union and Globe management negotiated – the union put a 3.5 percent pay cut on the table as well as other cuts to benefits and furlough days.
On Sunday, it was altogether a complicated package that came to the $10 million the Times wanted, but the Times rejected it because they wanted an end to the lifetime guarantees.
The sticking point: Lifetime jobs
Without getting rid of the lifetime guarantees, the Times cannot make the Globe more attractive for a sale. The Times has denied they are trying to sell the paper, but it is widely believed that they are shopping it around.
In addition, the Times possibly has an $85 million gap to close this year, based on what the Globe is projected to lose. The negotiations come up with $20 million of that. Managers have taken some of the cuts as well, making up some of the money. But there is still a gaping hole of money that the paper is projected to lose, so down the line there could be more cuts.
According to Boston.com, Boston Newspaper Guild President Daniel Totten sent a letter to members Tuesday night, saying that a large layoff can be expected regardless of the outcome of these negotiations. Without lifetime job guarantees, more people are vulnerable.
Sealing an uncertain deal
On Thursday, the Guild members will see this agreement and the other unions will share details with their own members. They will not take votes right away.
Some members have complained that they have been kept in the dark during these negotiations, so there might be a lot of questions about the deal and about the way it was conducted. It is unlikely that it will sail through ratification.
The most disagreement may be over whether giving up the job guarantees was the right thing to do. One Guild member said the guarantees were the most valuable bargaining chip the union had, and now they will be gone.
But in the end, the Times still holds all the cards because it could go back to its original threat that it made just over a month ago that it will shut down the paper if it keeps losing so much money.
There’s no guarantee that the union members will accept this deal. They could come back with a “No,” and bring everyone back to the starting point.
This program aired on May 6, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.
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