Daniel Totten, president of the Boston Newspaper Guild, left, and Scott Steeves, vice president of the Boston Newspapers Guild, walking out of the Boston Globe before announcing the Boston Newspaper Guild vote to reject a package of major concessions that included $10 million in wage and benefit cuts. (Matthew J. Lee/ Globe Staff)
By Robert Gavin, Globe Staff
The Boston Globe's largest union tonight narrowly rejected $10
million in wage and benefit cuts, and about an hour later the paper's owner
declared an impasse in negotiations and imposed a 23 percent pay cut on the
union's members, effective next week.
The move by The New York Times Co., which said the Globe's dire
financial condition gave it no choice, could quickly shift the bitter
contract dispute from the bargaining table to the National Labor Relations
Board and federal courts. The Boston Newspaper Guild, which represents
nearly 700 editorial, advertising, and business office workers, has told
members it would file unfair labor practice charges with the board, and
seek a court order blocking the Times Co. from imposing the pay cut.
In a statement, Globe spokesman Robert Powers said management was
disappointed by the vote, and that the company must now move ahead with the
deep pay cut. He said the company sent a letter advising Guild officials of
the move tonight.
"As we have stated, the $10 million in cost savings from this
multifaceted proposal is essential to The Boston Globe's financial
future," Powers said. "We regret having to take this action, but have no
financially viable alternative."
Guild president Daniel Totten declined comment on the company's move
to implement the 23 percent pay cut until he could review the letter. After
the vote, Totten said in a statement, "With today's vote, members of the
Boston Newspaper Guild have said that The New York Times Company must do
better than the offer that was presented. Globe workers and the New England
community understand that the quality of The Boston Globe — an institution
so vital to the life and culture of the region — depends on the fair
treatment of the men and women who work so hard to produce it."
Guild members, with about 80 percent participating, voted 277 to 265
to reject the company's contract offer, which included pay cuts totalling
more than 10 percent; deep cuts to health and retirement benefits,
including a pension freeze; and the elimination of lifetime job guarantees
for about 170 veteran members.
The Guild is the only one of the Globe's four major unions to reject
concessions the Times Co. said it needs to continue operating the Globe,
projected to lose $85 million this year without significant cost savings.
In early April, the Times Co. said it would shutter the Globe, New
England's largest newspaper, unless the paper's unions agreed to a combined
$20 million, with half demanded from Guild.
Unions representing mailers, press operators, and delivery truck
drivers approved concessions worth nearly a combined $10 million.
In declaring the impasse, the Times Co. said it tried its best to
reach agreement with the Guild, but could not. The pay cut goes into effect
next week and will appear in Guild employee checks on June 25, Globe
"The urgency of the Globe's financial condition makes it imperative
that we achieve those savings and savings negotiated with our other unions
immediately," said Gregory Thornton, the Globe's chief negotiator, in a
letter to Totten.
The Thornton letter also invited Totten to discuss the 23 percent pay
cut with management "any day this week," before it takes effect.
The Times Co.'s move represents another chapter in the contentious
relations with the Guild. Unlike other unions, Guild leaders never reached
a tentative agreement over concessions, promising only to bring the
company's offer to members for a vote, without recommending for or against.
Still, union leaders signalled in several ways that they would not be
unhappy if members voted down the proposal. Totten, for example, said he
was going to vote "no" in the hopes of negotiating a better deal.
Both sides would embark on a risky path by moving from the bargaining
table to the legal process, according to labor law specialists. Unfair
labor practice cases hinge on whether negotiations were conducted in "good
faith," a term with a definition that is murky at best, said Thomas
Kohler, a Boston College law professor.
As a result, these cases can drag on for months, if not years. The
Detroit newspaper strike of 1995 was launched after management declared an
impasse in contract negotiations and imposed its own conditions on union
workers. The case was litigated into the next decade.
"There is no litmus test that the bargaining is in good faith,"
said Kohler. "It's a messy process and it can be lengthy."
Guild members would likely have to live with the onerous pay cut
until the case is resolved because courts rarely grant orders to block such
moves while the cases are being litigated, according to labor law
specialists. On the other hand, the Times Co. could be liable for millions
of dollars in back salaries and interest should the Guild challenge
Ultimately, the best outcome for both sides might be to negotiate a
deal, said Gary Chaison, professor of industrial relations at Clark
University in Worcester.
"If the United Auto Workers can settle with General Motors on the
brink of bankruptcy, why can't the Times Co. settle with its reporters?"
In many ways, today passed like any other day at the 137-year-old
newspaper. But with Guild members voting in a large numbers — turnout
exceeded 80 percent — it was decidedly no typical day.
Some voted no, others voted yes, and still others paced the hallways
at the paper unsure of how to vote.
"Either way, we're going to lose," said David Filipov, a reporter
for 14 years at the Globe.
As Dina Rudick saw it, voting yes was the best of two terrible
options. "The industry is in peril and for us to expect things to remain
the same is ludicrous," said Rudick, a Globe photographer for the last
seven years. "We may not like it, but we have got to evolve, and evolution
may look like shrinking for now."
To read previous coverage of the issues facing The Boston Globe, click here.