What next for Boston Globe: wage cuts or renewed bargaining?

Largest union rejects $10 million in pay and benefit concessions, maneuvers to resume talks. The paper's owner moves to unilaterally slash wages.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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    Boston Newspaper Guild President Dan Totten (l.) walks to meet with reporters outside The Boston Globe building in Boston on Monday evening. The Globe's largest union rejected a new contract on Monday, refusing to accept $10 million in annual pay and benefit cuts despite threats of even deeper wage cuts or the possible closure of the 137-year-old newspaper.
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Shock, sadness, and some acrimony pervaded The Boston Globe early Tuesday.

Late Monday, the Globe's largest union narrowly rejected a proposed package of pay and benefit cuts. That prompted The New York Times Co., which owns the Globe, to declare an impasse and begin implementing a threatened 23 percent wage cut across the board.

In a statement, Globe management said it is "disappointed" by the vote, which was 277 to 265. But it also said $10 million in cost savings from the Boston Newspaper Guild is "essential to The Boston Globe's financial future." As a result, it will move to unilaterally implement the wage cut next week.

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The union is calling on the company to return to the bargaining table. It has not yet commented on the Times' declaration of an impasse, but in a statement Guild President Dan Totten said the vote signaled that union members believe "The New York Times Co. must do better than the offer that was presented." He has also said that if the Times does unilaterally impose a wage cut, the union will file a grievance with the National Labor Relations Board charging that the company negotiated in bad faith. That could tie the paper up in legal proceedings for months, if not years, while the NLRB makes a determination. Contract opponents suggest that will prompt the Times go back to the bargaining table.

"It was punitive and bad-faith bargaining. There's a long and pretty detailed record that will go to the National Labor Relations Board," says Brian Mooney, a Globe reporter and outspoken opponent of the contract proposal. "Frankly, we think we have a very strong case, and I think The New York Times would be foolish to jeopardize the financial future of the company just to punish us some more with a 23 percent cut."

The Boston Globe lost $50 million last year and is on track to lose $85 million this year. The New York Times Co. has said it needs to wring at least $20 million in savings from the Globe this year. Six of the Globe's smaller unions have already agreed to concessions totaling about $10 million. The other $10 million is now slated to come from the wage cut imposed on the Boston Newspaper Guild. Earlier this year, the Times said it would close the Globe if it did not achieve the $20 million in cost savings.

While the union is hoping the Times will resume bargaining, some reporters who supported the contract doubt it will.

The Times "made this very aggressive, essentially sort of hostile statement that they're going to take away a quarter of our gross pay, so why would they not do that?" says Globe columnist Alex Beam. "There's a much bigger playing field for the Times than Boston."

It wouldn't make sense for management "to back down to a regional newspaper union" when they have a much larger financial constituency to consider, from bondholders to shareholders, says Mr. Beam.

"Their financial constituency is much larger than a Boston employee association," he says.

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