The Boston Globe is back on the auction block, despite a potentially long and drawn-out labor dispute with its largest union.
The New York Times Co., the Globe's owner, confirmed Wednesday that it has hired the investment firm Goldman Sachs to shop the paper, which is New England's largest. In fact, a large real estate firm, the Intercontinental Real Estate Corp., has been in talks with The New York Times Co. for the past 10 weeks, according to the Boston Herald, the Globe's chief competitor.
The Boston Newspaper Guild, the Globe's largest union, has signaled that if a new owner were found, the Guild would be willing to negotiate wage and benefit cuts in exchange for an equity stake in the paper.
At the same time, workers at the Globe are holding out hope that The New York Times Co. will go back to the bargaining table to reopen contract talks. The goal would be to make it easier to sell the paper. "The ball is in the Times's court," says one Globe reporter, who asked not to be named, saying it was best to leave comments to the Guild negotiators.
This week, the Guild narrowly rejected a contract offer that included a 10 percent wage cut and steep reductions in benefits. The Times countered by declaring an impasse and imposing a 23 percent wage cut. The union then filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.
In the run-up to the union's vote, many experts commented that a big labor battle would make it much harder to sell the Globe. But when the Times confirmed it was looking for a buyer, that fueled hope it will go back to the bargaining table. So, too, have comments in a letter to reporters from Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., who wrote that negotiators "are ready and willing to meet and plan to do so Monday."
In an e-mail, Times corporate spokeswoman Catherine Mathis wrote that "we do not comment on rumors concerning potential acquisitions or divestitures." She also declined to comment on the potential for talks reopening.
The options facing The Boston Globe range from hope for a sale to a shutdown of the printing presses. "Theoretically, everything is on the table, from a renegotiation to a sale, and it's hard to know or even divine all of the motives and goals of the parties involved," says Mark Jurkowitz, associate director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism in Washington. He's also a former ombudsman at the Globe. "The vote was obviously very close. They only need to switch seven votes to have a different outcome."
The Times has said it will impose the 23 percent wage reduction starting on Sunday. That, too, could have an impact on the Globe's future. "The big question is, what happens at the Globe when employees open their paychecks and get the sticker shock of losing a quarter of their paychecks in this kind of an economy?" Mr. Jurkowitz says. "You have to wonder if that will change some people's views."