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The labor dispute at New England's largest newspaper, the Boston Globe, may be just beginning. Despite two months of pressure from the Boston Globe's owner, The New York Times Co., the largest union at the newspaper on Monday rejected a package of concessions designed to save $10 million.
The Boston Newspaper Guild, which represents about 700 news, advertising and business workers at the Globe, wants to resume negotiations. But the Times Co. says it has no choice but to follow through on its threat to cut guild members' wages by 23 percent.
Professor Tom Kochan of MIT's Sloan School of Management spoke with us about what's ahead for the newspaper.
Bob Oakes: The Guild has offered to resume contract negotiations, to find another way to achieve the $10 million in savings The New York Times wants. Do you think there's much of a chance of talks resuming?
Tom Kochan: Well, both parties really have an incentive to go back to the table, given that the vote was so close — a 12-vote difference. It's clear there are many, many members of the guild who want to go back to the table and get a deal. It's also clear that while the Globe can impose this 23-percent wage reduction, it's not certain that the National Labor Relations Board will approve that decision in the end.
So both parties have enough uncertainty, and they have a potential now to structure a new arrangement that will actually work for them, rather than just impose cuts that may be a slippery slope to ultimate demise.
But, after the union rejection of the $10 million in contract recessions, Globe management used the term "impasse in negotiations," in reference to its view of the current situation. What does that term signal?
That's a technical term, signaling to the National Labor Relations Board that they in fact have made their best and final offer, reached an impasse, had it rejected and therefore now have the legal right to impose the wage cut. They will have to convince the National Labor Relations Board that they are in fact at an impasse.
And the union has the burden of arguing that, no, they still are in negotiations and have room for negotiations.
The guild says it might go the National Labor Relations Board to file a complaint protesting the 23-percent wage cut that the Times says it's now going to impose. Does the union have much footing in that regard?
They can do that, but they would have to get the National Labor Relations Board to issue an injunction, to prohibit the Globe from moving forward. That's a very, very difficult thing to achieve and, while it's not impossible, it's not probable.
What's the possibility this might turn into a protracted legal fight over contract concessions and wage cuts at the Globe?
In this case, the parties don't have the luxury of a protracted fight. My guess is that any protracted dispute will lead to the end of the Globe as we know it, or the firesale of the Globe by The New York Times to some organization that will impose even worse terms on the workforce and leave the community with a much lower quality newspaper.
What about working conditions inside the paper now? I imagine it might be kind of a difficult place to be.
Oh, it's awfully difficult to work through these kinds of situations. My hope and my expectation is that the parties will come to their senses. You can't run a professional organization with the kind of bitterness and adversarial climate that they now find themselves in.
That's why, getting back to the table — finding an accommodation that finds the financial relief that's necessary, but repositions the parties to work together to build a new Globe that will be sustainable — that's the challenge, that's what they have to do, that's what I suspect they will make an attempt to do over the next couple of days.
This program aired on June 9, 2009.
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