On Monday, July 20, the Boston Newspaper Guild votes on a new package of steep pay and benefit reductions from the New York Times Co. The Times Co. has demanded that its largest union accept $10 million in cuts or the Boston Globe could be in danger of closing.
This will be the second vote. The first one was narrowly rejected on June 8. The new package of cuts offered by the Times Co. isn’t much different from the first, but focuses more on benefits than salaries. But the cuts are still deep and painful.
The general consensus seems to be that the Guild will vote to approve the new package.
But should they?
Last month, I speculated that the Guild should consider a work stoppage or a strike. It’s a bold move, but one the Guild should seriously consider (full disclosure: I’m a former member of the Worcester Newspaper Guild – a sister union at the Telegram & Gazette, which is also owned by the Times Co.).
It’s clear that the New York Times Co. is desperate for the Guild to vote “yes” on the package of cuts for one reason: so it can sell the Globe. The Times Co. has no real intention of keeping the newspaper. A “yes” vote cleans up a big labor mess and gives the Times Co. the green light for a sale.
In other words, once the Guild votes “yes” they lose all the power they once had. In fact, it is likely that once the 190 lifetime job guarantees are voted out by the Guild that the Times Co. will have another round of lay-offs. The only goal that the Times Co. has right now is to make the Globe as attractive as possible to potential buyers. That means cutting costs and fixing labor problems.
So what really does the Guild lose by voting no?
They have already been forced to take a 23 percent salary cut. Why not try to work out a better deal – say one with better severance packages – or threaten a walk-out? A work stoppage would be devastating for the Times Co. and make the Globe unsellable – until a deal could be worked out. No group of investors is going to buy a newspaper that isn’t publishing and has lost its largest union in a contract battle.
The Times Co. would then have two choices: renegotiate a better deal for the Guild or shut down operations.
If they shut down the Globe – which they have threatened to do before – the Times Co. would render its $1.1 billion investment worthless. It would also come with an expensive price-tag. Closing the operation would be expensive, complicated and a public relations disaster for the Times Co.
So the question becomes: Would the Times Co. shut down the Globe?
That’s the question Guild members should consider before voting. If they believe the Times Co. would, indeed, close the newspaper then they should vote yes. If they think a closure is unlikely then they should vote no and try to negotiate a better deal.
We’ll all find out how they vote after Monday.