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Boston Globe Puts Thumb on the Scale - Again

Let me see if I have this right: there have been six polls of the Massachusetts Senate race released in the last 24 hours, five of which show Scott Brown with leads of 5 points, 7 points, 9 points, 10 points and 10 points, respectively. Only one poll shows the race tied. None of the polls show Martha Coakley with a lead.

How then, you might ask, can the Boston Globe justify characterizing the race as a "dead heat?"

I suppose if you were disingenuous enough to downplay and/or ignore the five polls showing Scott Brown with fairly sizable leads, then that headline wouldn't be false. Massively biased and misleading, yes, but technically accurate. And wouldn't you know, that's exactly what the author of the story does:

Continue reading "Boston Globe Puts Thumb on the Scale - Again" »

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."

Boston Globe Averts Shutdown

At the end, the guild caved.

The Boston Globe's largest union reached a tentative agreement with management just after 3 a.m. today, the last of the paper's unions to sign off on concessions to the parent New York Times Co. The guild, which represents the newsroom, agreed to a substantial pay cut and unpaid furloughs, but more importantly, it finally allowed for modifications to the lifetime job guarantee provisions. The guild's previous insistence to keep the guarantee whole had caused the negotiations to reach an impasse.

Neither side released much details on the new agreement, which is still pending a vote by the union members. But the deal should be enough to lift the New York Times Co.'s threat to shut down the Globe. The company had set a May 1 deadline, extended it to May 3, before reaching agreements with all unions.

The NYT Co. won hard concessions, totaling $20 million, from the unions. But its problems at the Globe may not be over for a long while. The paper is expected to lose $85 million this year. And the threat of shutting down the Globe may have an adverse effect on the paper's circulation, which has dwindled steadily since the company bought it in 1993 for $1.1 billion.

Boston vs. New York (Continued)

If you thought last night's Red Sox-Yankees game took forever (because of a rain delay), you haven't kept up with the marathon negotiations between the unions of the Boston Globe and New York Times Co.

Talks broke off yesterday morning after management rejected the "last, best offer" from the guild. The company didn't follow through on a threat to file a plant closing notice with the state, as it's apparently confident that a deal will be reached. It has an agreement with every union except the guild, which represents the newsroom.

Negotiations are scheduled to resume at 5 p.m. today. The sticking point now is the guild's insistence to keep the "lifetime guarantee" intact. Management so far has not been willing to budge.

There may be some dissension growing out of the ranks as the Boston Herald disclosed that Dan Totten, the guild's lead negotiator, has seen his pay increase by 12 percent over the past three years. "I think it's unconscionable that union leadership is not suffering the same cuts that we are," said one guild member who has seen the filings and didn't want to be identified.

Meanwhile, the New York Times didn't stop negotiating in the Big Apple. Yesterday, the Times' own staff agreed to a 5% paycut, effective immediately. This deal saves the Times from trimming 80 jobs for now, but does not rule out future layoffs.

At least in this case, the New Yorkers proved to be more of a pushover than Bostonians. But the fact that the paper from its biggest rival city owns the Globe has been a sore spot in Beantown since the Times acquired it in 1993:

Boston residents have long resented the takeover of the Globe by a company based in New York, with which the region competes in sports, banking and cultural bragging rights. ...

"From the moment the Times Co. purchased The Globe in 1993, it has treated New England's largest newspaper like a cheap whore," former Globe columnist Eileen McNamara wrote last month in the Herald. "It pimped her out for profit during the booming 1990s and then pillaged her when times got tough. It closed her foreign bureaus and cheapened her coverage of everything from the fine arts to the hard sciences."

Yes, she said "cheap whore."

A Staredown of a "Lifetime"

The game of brinksmanship between the New York Times Co., and the Boston Globe's guild is coming to a head. At stake: The continued existence of New England's largest newspaper, first published in 1872.

With all other unions having agreed to concessions pending a formal vote by their members, the guild, which represents the newsroom employees, is holding out. While it has given the $10 million in concessions management demanded, it is unwilling to let go of a "lifetime guarantee" provision that affects over 500 former employees and 190 current ones.

The guild's latest offer was rejected last night, prompting its negotiators to leave the table as of this morning. More talks may resume tomorrow, but no resolution is likely unless the guild is willing to relent on this one issue.

That the guild is playing hardball, in the face of a threatened shutdown, is surprising. Elsewhere in the country, almost every union has quickly acquiesced to management demands given the fast unraveling of the newspaper business.

While the NYT Co. has backed off an earlier threat to file a plant closing notice, it's still not impossible for the paper to be shuttered. The Times paid $1.1 billion to acquire the Globe in 1993, and now it's expected to lose about $85 million this year at the paper. The circulation of the Globe has dwindled from 508,800 in 1993 to 382,500 today.

Dan Totten, president of the guild, said his union is negotiating in good faith. But the union's unwillingness to give in on the "lifetime guarantee" issue is not winning any friends or sympathies.

The idea of lifetime jobs seems hopelessly quaint in this era of Darwinian globalization, continuous technological disruption and profound economic uncertainty.

It also was born of arrogance on the part of publishers who thought their market supremacy would endure forever and arrogance on the part of unions who once wielded sufficient power to intimidate management into agreeing to this perfectly preposterous proposition.

Apart from federal judges and tinhorn dictators, no one has the luxury of a job for life. And no one should.

Across town at the Boston Herald, Howie Carr snickers:

Outside the employees themselves and a few limp bloggers, nobody cares about the Globe's demise. Let the epitaph be: Smug Is Not a Workable Business Plan. These pampered poodles assumed they had a monopoly. Nobody ever has a monopoly, at least not for long. ... One last thing to all my dear friends on the Boulevard.

We're not hiring.

Will the guild dare management to shut down the paper? Will the NYT Co. follow through with its threat? One thing we already know: Despite all of his liberal and union-friendly politics, Pinch Sulzberger is proving to be quite a capitalist when it comes to his own family business (as he should be).

Boston Globe Negotiations Ongoing

Boston Globe's unions and the paper's parent New York Times Co. continued negotiations well after the expiration of a second deadline imposed by the company.

The NYT Co. originally threatened to shut down the paper if no settlement with the paper's 13 unions were reached by May 1. It was extended to midnight Sunday. As of this morning, tentative deals with several unions have been struck while talks continue with the pressmen's union and the newspaper guild.

As a precautionary measure, however, the paper's management is prepared to file a plant closing notice with the state in case negotiations fall apart.

The sides agreed to "take a break" as of 6:45 a.m. EDT and it's unclear if the deadline has been extended and whether the negotiations will resume later today.

(UPDATE) As of 8 a.m., all unions except the guild have tentative agreements with management pending a vote by members. The pressmen union was the latest to announced its deal. The guild, which represents the newsroom, has stopped negotiations for today after its latest offer was rejected by management.

Boston Globe Lives ... for Two More Days

In the 11th hour, the Boston Globe gets a reprieve - for 48 hours.

Friday was supposed to be the deadline imposed by the parent New York Times Co. for a negotiated settlement to keep the Globe afloat. The company is threatening to shut down the Globe unless the paper's unions agree to concessions totaling $20 million.

Unlike other unions across the country that quickly folded under similar threats, the Globe's unions have negotiated contentiously. The guild, representing the newsroom employees, has been particularly steadfast since it's been asked to absorb half of the $20 million concession the company is seeking - while the other 12 unions are asked to carry the other half.

The deadline has been extended to Sunday at midnight as the sides haggle over an accounting error. Meanwhile, no buyer has emerged to take the paper out of New York Times Co.'s hands - the NYT paid $1.1 billion for the Globe in 1993 and now it's estimated to be worth just $20 million. John Henry, owner of the Boston Red Sox, has denied interest in buying the Globe.

The paper is covering its potential demise with good cheer, however, with daily updates and a special section on the web to keep the readers apprised of the negotiations. Most indications are that a settlement is within reach. But we won't know for sure until Monday morning.


New York Times on the Brink

Cash-strapped with rapidly declining readership (at least of the print variety), the New York Times faces an uncertain future, and its plight has been well-documented in recent months.

The Times' latest money-saving scheme has hit a snag. Trying to extract significant concessions from the unions of the Boston Globe, instead the Times Co. has met resistance. Essentially, the unions are calling the company's bluff. The Times, in turn, now threatens to put the Globe under bankruptcy protection.

Whatever the Times decides to do with the Globe, it's probably not going to completely turn around the fortunes of the company. It has too much debt, too many assets it can't divest and too few ideas to regain its footing, at least for the time being.

In January, The Atlantic ran an alarmist "End Times" piece that raised the specter of the Times' shutting down its print edition, as early as this year. The Times dismissed it out of hand. Now comes Vanity Fair's epic "The Inheritance," in which Mark Bowden chronicles the Times' inexorable decline under the stewardship of the scion Arthur "Pinch" Sulzberger, Jr., in a somewhat sympathetic portrayal.

It's quite lengthy, so you'd best go buy the May issue or get your printer to work. But here's a bit of a highlight:

Here, in a nutshell, in the words of a veteran Times staffer, is what is supposedly wrong with Arthur: "He has no rays"--rays, as in the lines cartoonists draw around a character to suggest radiance, or power. In the comics trade these lines are called "emanata." The emanata deficit is a standard insider lament about Arthur, although most Times people need a few more words to make the point.

No one can plumb another's depths. Arthur certainly seems clever enough, but try as he might, he fails to impress. He comes off as a lightweight, as someone slightly out of his depth, whose dogged sincerity elicits not admiration so much as pity. While no one blames him for what is clearly a crisis afflicting all newspapers, he has made a series of poor business moves that now follow him like the tail of a kite. He has doubled-down on print over the last two decades, most notably with his own newspaper but also spending more than a billion dollars to buy The Boston Globe and the International Herald Tribune.

Boston Globe on the Ropes?

The cash-strapped New York Times Co. is looking for more ways to get out from its mountainous debt. Its latest move appears to be extracting substantial concessions from the unions at the Boston Globe.

Failing that, it may shut down the paper altogether.

The Times Co., which purchased the Globe in 1993 for $1.1. billion, is seeking paycuts, a freeze of pensions and other concessions from the 13 unions of the paper, its second biggest after the flagship New York Times. Founded in 1872, the Globe is still the dominant paper in New England, though its circulation has dropped precipitously over the last decade, to its current 324,000.

With over $1 billion in debt, the Times Co. in recent months has sought to raise cash aggressively. It sold its Eighth Avenue headquarters and rented back the office space; it received a $250 million loan from Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim; and it continues to shop its 17.5% stake in New England Sports Ventures, which owns the Boston Red Sox and Fenway Park.

The Times has been shopping the Globe as well, but with an estimated worth of $20 million, there has been no takers. Just two years ago, the Times rebuffed inquiries for the Globe, at the time valued at $500-$600 million.

The Globe's crosstown rival Boston Herald has long been rumored to have an interest in acquiring the paper. But late last year, Herald publisher Pat Purcell denied that any discussions were held with officials from the Times Co. Jack Connors, a Boston advertising executive who did try to buy the Globe in 2007 - along with former GE CEO Jack Welch - also claimed there wasn't any renewed interest on his part, saying "sometimes in life, you're lucky for the deals you don't get."

Times Co.'s threat may very well be a tactical move to force the unions to play ball in order to cut costs, similar to what the Hearst Corporation engineered with the newspaper guild of the San Francisco Chronicle. But it has nevertheless gotten the union's attention. Said Ralph Giallanella, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 259, which represents about 200 drivers who deliver the newspaper:

"We all know the newspaper industry is going through great transition and loss. The ad revenues have fallen off the cliff. Just based on everything that's going on around the country, they're serious."