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Boston Globe Guild Caves

Two weeks after rejecting a concession package with management, the Boston Globe's guild "re-negotiated" a new deal with parent New York Times Co. that varied little from one that was rejected by a mere 12 votes.

Guild leadership this time expressed confidence that the rank-and-file will ratify the new agreement quickly. The package still calls for a $10 million concession from the guild to allow the Globe to stay afloat. And all key provisions that management had demanded, including the elimination of the lifetime job guarantee, are also left unchanged from the original deal. The only major difference appears to be that the guild would accept a 5.9 percent paycut instead of an 8.4% one, in exchange for deeper cuts in other benefits packages.

When the first deal was scuttled by the guild vote, management immediately imposed a 23% paycut that had been in effect for the past two weeks.

What's also different is that the NYT Co. has also put the Globe up for sale. Recent reports indicated that Stephen Pagliuca, co-owner of the Boston Celtics, Jack Connors, co-founder of a major advertising firm and chairman of Partners HealthCare, and Stephen Taylor, a former Globe executive and member of the family that sold the Globe to the Times in 1993 are among potential bidders. The Time Co. paid over $1 billion for the Globe but is now willing to part with the paper for around $20 million.

The guild has scheduled for a vote on July 20. And now with the backing with its leadership, most expect the new package to be ratified.

Brian Mooney, a veteran reporter who spoke out against the last proposal, says he remains unsure of this agreement until he reviews it. But he said the general rank and file view seems to be it is worth accepting.

"Everyone wants to see the numbers and I don't think it will be unanimous, but it probably puts some wind at their backs," he said of the supporters. "It is a tentative agreement which means the bargaining committee and the company have agreed this is the best they will do."

Did the Globe Just Commit Suicide?

So just what did the guild's 'No' decision, by a razor-thin 12 votes, mean for the future of the Boston Globe?

Almost a suicide, notes Alex Jones, a former New York Times staffer writing in the Daily Beast:

Alas, in this case, the situation was like mouthing off to a cop. It may offer momentary satisfaction, but you pay a severe price. One can only imagine the conversations between spouses in the wake of the "no" vote as the reality of what has been unleashed hit home.

Looked at objectively, The Globe's unions have almost no leverage. The Guild, which is the only large union at the paper to defy the Times Company's demands, has begun a legal battle in federal court to stop the wage cut, but that is unlikely to succeed. The Times justified imposing the cut by declaring negotiations at an impasse, and fighting that in the courts can easily take years and be very expensive. The prospect of getting the Times to negotiate a better deal is all but nil, because doing so would require reopening negotiations with all the other unions.

A strike would be suicidal. And everyone--including the Guild members who voted "no"--recognizes that this is not a situation in which the company is protecting profits that it refuses to share but one in which the goal is to stem catastrophic losses.

The New York Times Co., after unilaterally imposing a 23% paycut on guild employees following the 'No' vote, has put the paper up for sale. But given that the Globe will lose an estimated $135 million over 2008 and '09, plus the ongoing labor dispute, it's doubtful that a viable buyer would emerge quickly. The Times paid over $1 billion when it acquired the Globe in 1993. Now the paper is worth less than $20 million.

The guild has asked the company to reopen negotiations, but so far, management has rejected such calls. Members of the guild have gone as far as pleading with NYT Co. chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr., long a champion of labor causes, but it was met with a terse rebuttal.

"We are now left with no alternative other than to proceed with the wage reduction," Sulzberger wrote in an e-mail. "Without that, the Globe will be unable to effectuate the savings already ratified by its other unions, in which case it simply cannot survive."

NYT Co. Imposes Paycut after Globe's 'No' Vote

By mere 12 votes, the Boston Globe's guild rejected a deal negotiated with parent New York Times Co. a month ago. Management then wasted no time in imposing a 23% paycut on all guild members, effective next week.

The New York Times Co. had threatened to shut down the Globe outright if the four major unions did not come to an agreement that would save the company $20 million. After contentious negotiations, each union reached a deal with management and all except the guild immediately ratified the pacts.

In the month leading up to the vote, the guild leadership made no secret that it came to the deal under duress and all but invited the rank-and-file to vote it down. And they did, by a vote of 277-265, rejecting a new contract that included a 10% pay cut, reduction to health and retirement benefits, including a pension freeze, and the elimination of lifetime job guarantees for about 170 veteran members.

The sides may be headed to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) but in the meantime, a new round of negotiations will probably commence. The union has little recourse in reversing the unilateral paycut except to file a grievance. Management, on the other hand, will not be able to concede too much to the guild lest it nullifies the deals it already has with other unions.

A fault line within the guild may be developing as well. Its negotiating team, lead by Dan Totten, fought hard to preserve the lifetime guarantee provision until the very end. On Monday night, guild members divided sharply on how they voted based on whether they have that lifetime guarantee or not.

Globe City Hall Bureau Chief Donovan Slack, who voted yes, believes the paper will lose "tons of amazingly, talented journalists" if the company imposes the 23-percent pay cut.

"It's really frustrating that it was so close," said Slack, who has been at the paper for six years. "To think that only 12 people separated what could have been the end of this nightmare, from what will now, most definitely, turn into a prolonged battle with too many casualties to even calculate right now."

Before the results were announced, Globe reporter Scott Allen said he voted no and described a "very serious" mood over on Morrissey Boulevard.

"As much as the New York Times needs the concessions, and as much as we all recognize that we have to do our part and we want to do our part, the Times did not try very hard to make the deal fair or equitable for us," said Allen, who has a lifetime job guarantee.

The other unions, including pressmen, drivers and mailroom workers who have already approved deals totaling $10 million in cuts, are not sympathetic to the guild. They see the 'No' vote as an irresponsible move that may scuttle a new contract that had been nearly in place.

And finally, the threat of shutting down the paper should the impasse drag on is very real, according to Wachovia Senior Analyst John Janedis:

The New York Times Co. is set to lose $85 million on an operating basis. The plant closures, reduced compensation and increased circulation revenue should help but not enough. The paper is on track to lose a "significant amount of money this year," Janedis wrote.

"While the potential closure of the paper may be viewed by some as a negotiating tool, we think ongoing double-digit ad revenue declines and labor issues could make a hybrid print/web edition a reality, ultimately leading to significantly more job losses."

CNN in a Free Fall

It looks like one of the biggest casualties of the Obama Administration is CNN.

Fourth months into the new presidency, television ratings for cable news networks on the right and left have improved, both at the expense of CNN, the one-time industry leader and purported non-partisan network.

In May, Fox News continued its reign as the cable news leader with more audience than No. 2 MSNBC and No. 3 CNN combined. The nine top rated prime-time news shows were all Fox News programs, led by "The O'Reilly Factor" - the top show for the 102nd consecutive month - "Hannity" and "Glenn Beck."

MSNBC, for the second time in three months, trumped CNN in total viewers, solidifying its position as the No. 2 network. "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" is the only non-Fox News program to crack the top 10, and "The Rachel Maddow Show" has topped CNN's "Larry King Live" at the 9 p.m. slot for the seventh time in eight months among viewers aged 25-54.

Most troubling for CNN is the continuing decline of its heavily-promoted "Anderson Cooper 360." Its sharp drop in viewership hasn't stopped since Election Day, with several nights this month failing to reach even half a million (by contrast, O'Reilly pulls an average of nearly 3 million).

There's no question the swing to the center has hurt the network, notes Michael Calderon of Politico:

"The audience is becoming increasingly accustomed to finding opinions in prime-time," said Tom Rosenstiel, director of Pew's Project for Excellence in Journalism. ...

And there's a certain irony in all the hand-wringing because a news network decides upon taking a less ideological approach to the news in prime-time. In the 1990's, CNN couldn't shake the "Clinton News Network" nickname among conservatives, and yet now, is viewed as the more moderate network given MSNBC's prime-time lurch to the left.

One silver lining for CNN is the rapid improvement of HLN, formerly Headline News. Led by Nancy Grace's reporting on various missing children and social gossip, HLN is up a whopping 43% in total viewers compared to May 2008. HLN even surpassed CNN for the most desired 25-54 demographic for third place (219,000 vs. 216,000) in May.

Ripple Effects Felt in Detroit

As Chrysler and now GM filed for bankruptcy protection, the ripple effects are being felt at Detroit's newspapers. Under reorganization, both automakers will be forced to slash their advertising budgets, and that hurts the Detroit Free Press and News, who are already in a world of hurt.

Merely two months after introducing an innovative program to drastically reduce printing and delivering of the papers, both publications are forced to cut more cost in the face of dwindling advertising revenue. Last week, the Free Press announced that it's reducing 10 percent of its newsroom staff, eliminating 20 jobs. This week, a furlough program is introduced, with more layoffs expected in the next two quarters.

Here's the memo obtained by Media Watch:

From: Anders, Jeanette
Sent: Monday, June 01, 2009 3:33 PM
To: Detroit Newspaper Partnership
Subject: Furlough Implementation

As you are aware, staff reductions were implemented throughout Detroit Media Partnership and the Detroit Free Press on Friday and negotiations are ongoing with several unions. Eliminating those positions was an extremely difficult step toward addressing the continuing declines we are seeing in advertising revenue due to economic conditions.

However, in an effort to help minimize this most recent round of staff reductions, it is necessary to implement other cost cutting measures.

As a result, we are implementing one-week furloughs for non-bargaining unit employees in the Partnership and the Free Press, as has been the case at most other Gannett properties.

Each affected employee will need to schedule these furloughs during June, July, August or September.

Attached are FAQ's about the program. Managers will share more detailed communication this week, including procedures on how to schedule.

Although this is a difficult decision, we believe it is one of the necessary measures to help meet targeted expense reductions. I appreciate all you are doing every day to contribute to our transformation and our business success.