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Globe's offer softens pay cut but still stings

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By Robert Gavin
Globe Staff / June 25, 2009
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Members of The Boston Globe’s largest union got their first look at a new package of deep pay and benefit cuts last night, and many still don’t like it. But given the alternative - a 23 percent pay cut that appears for the first time in today’s paychecks - union members and officials say they expect the $10 million in concessions to be ratified next month.

Fewer than 100 of the nearly 700 members of the Boston Newspaper Guild attended a meeting at which they were briefed by union leaders on a tentative contract agreement reached late Tuesday night. That agreement came a little more than two weeks after Guild members narrowly rejected a contract offer, and 10 days after the Globe’s owner, The New York Times Co., imposed a 23 percent pay cut to gain savings it says it needs to right the money-losing paper.

That sharp salary reduction will end if the contract is ratified.

Scott Allen, a reporter who voted against the first offer, said he expects to support the new proposal.

“This contract proposal is unquestionably a better deal than the one we rejected on June 8,’’ Allen said. “Unless I hear something radically different, I’m voting ‘yes,’ but not enthusiastically.’’

The new proposal is similar to the contract offer that the Guild, which represents editorial, advertising, and business office workers, voted down. Among the key changes: reducing a proposed pay cut to 5.9 percent from the original 8.4 percent by slicing other benefits, including vacation pay and health insurance for future retirees.

The size of the original pay cut was considered a key factor in the first offer’s defeat.

The pay cut, however, is not the only hit Guild members would take to their earnings. As with the first offer, they must take five furlough days a year. In addition, the new proposal requires them to take three additional days off without pay.

All told, the pay cut totals about 9 percent in the new proposal, compared to more than 10 percent in the original offer. Compensation varies widely across the Guild, which includes advertising sales people, security guards, reporters, and editors. Salaries for reporters, for instance, range from about $40,000 to $70,000, according to the union contract, though many reporters and others make above the top scale.

Union leaders are recommending the proposal, which still includes the main concessions demanded by the Times Co.: a total of $10 million in savings, the elimination of lifetime job guarantees for some veteran members, and a pension freeze. Nonetheless, Guild president Daniel Totten said, union negotiators were able to improve the contract offer.

“This is not a deal that is going to please everybody,’’ Totten said, “but we tried to do the best we could for the members as a whole.’’

At the meeting, many members said the new deal still wasn’t good enough. In addition to pay cuts, those with family health insurance plans would see their costs go up by more than $1,000 year. Meanwhile, Guild members will have to absorb the 23 percent pay cut until the ratification vote on July 20.

If the contract is approved, Guild members would get back about two-thirds of the difference between the imposed pay cut and the smaller negotiated one, paid with a one-time cut in the company’s healthcare contributions.

Karen Mussari, 35, who works in the finance department, figured the new proposal is worse for her than the initial offer, which she voted to reject. She said she’ll vote no again.

“I’m very disappointed,’’ she said. “This is worse than the first one. I can’t in good conscience vote for it.’’

Brian Mooney, a longtime reporter and an outspoken opponent of the initial offer, said, “I’m still a no. I just might stop screaming about it.’’

The Guild is the only major Globe union that has not approved concessions the Times Co. said it needed to keep operating the newspaper. If the union rejects the new proposal, the 23 percent pay cut would remain in effect.

The Times Co. projected the paper, New England’s largest, would lose $85 million this year without significant cost reductions. In April, it threatened to shutter the Globe unless unions provided a total of $20 million in savings. Unions representing press operators, mailers, and delivery truck drivers, plus several smaller unions, have ratified about $10 million in concessions.

The Globe’s financial situation requires Guild members to make sacrifices to keep the paper viable, said Michael Paulson, a reporter.

“It’s a tough pill to swallow, but one that’s necessary,’’ Paulson said of the new contract proposal. “This is the best we could do in a tough situation.’’

The agreement also stipulates that if the Guild ratifies the contract, it will drop charges filed with the National Labor Relations Board against the Globe, alleging unfair labor practices.

Robert Gavin can be reached at rgavin@globe.com.