Boston Globe Guild employees, by a vote of 277 to 265, narrowly rejected a proposed package of wage and benefit cuts today, despite a threat from the newspaper’s owner, The New York Times Co., that such a rejection could precipitate a unilateral, 23 percent cut in pay.
The Boston Newspaper Guild, which represents 700 editorial, advertising and business employees, was faced with the choice of accepting $10 million in annual wage and benefit concessions or risking even deeper pay cuts and the possible closure of New England's most prestigious newspaper. Management says said that a provision to reopen the guild contract gave owners the right to impose the 23 percent pay cut if the wage and benefit cuts were rejected. Union officials say the company was bluffing.
The rank-and-file with the newspaper's six other unions have already approved a total of a little more than $10 million in concessions.
The New York Times Co., which owns the Globe, said it needed a total of $20 million in annual savings from Globe unions - half from the Guild - to avoid shutting down the 137-year-old newspaper.
It was a choice of two bad options, as described by Richard Perez-Pena writing in The New York Times.
“We have two really lousy options,” said Michael A. Paulson, a reporter, who said in late afternoon that he was still undecided. “One is to accept a package that we think is unfair and excessively onerous,” he said, while the alternative might be more painful, and would mean “another battle with the company.”
Two months ago, the company threatened to close The Globe unless unions agreed to $20 million a year in wage and benefit concessions, and to give up lifetime job guarantees for about 400 employees. Of that savings, the company sought $10 million from the guild, by far the largest union, representing about 670 workers, most of them in the newsroom, with others in advertising and other departments.
A guild official said that voting turnout was huge, with more than 500 members having voted by 6 p.m. [Eastern.]
Alexandra Marks of The Christian Science Monitor wrote about the vote from the 35,000-foot level:
But hovering over the debate is a larger question: Is there a future for a traditional, major metropolitan newspaper?
"Certainly, there's nobody in the union who thinks, 'OK, if we approve this deal, we make the sacrifices now, but we're guaranteeing our survival and there's smooth sailing,' " says Mark Jurkowitz, associate director of the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism in Washington. He's also a former ombudsman at the Globe. "What we're seeing here is that: 'Even if we accept this offer, what is the future of the paper?' That's the big unknown that's hovering over this."
Photo of Boston Globe rally on April 24, 2009.