Leaders of the Boston Newspaper Guild filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board June 9 challenging a 23 percent wage cut issued by the Boston Globe and its owner The New York Times Company.

The guild is the newspaper’s largest union, representing 700 editorial, advertising and business office workers. They voted down a $10 million package of concessions aimed at cutting the costs of the 137-year-old publication. The union voted 277-265 to reject a package that included the equivalent of a 10.3 percent salary reduction, deep cuts in health and retirement benefits such as a pension freeze, and elimination of a lifetime job guarantee enjoyed by almost 200 workers.

The union hopes to resume negotiations with the Globe and Times Co., yet the company has stated it does not plan on rescinding its measure and only wants to meet with the guild to discuss the implementation of the cuts. The company says it has no interest in any further negotiating. It. said the unilateral pay cut would take effect next week with no more talks.

Nonetheless Daniel Totten, guild president, told reporters after a union meeting that he plans on meeting with the Times Co. next Monday, “to begin work toward a realistic and fair agreement on wages, benefits and work rules.”

Totten continued, “The Boston Newspaper Guild will take all necessary steps to pursue and reach a fair and livable agreement. We will also oppose the company’s drastic and extreme move … through any legal means necessary.”

Under the current contract there is a provision to reopen talks on wages this year, and management contends that, once an impasse was reached, it could unilaterally lower wages. The Times Co. declared an impasse after the union’s narrow vote.

However guild leaders say talks are not at an impasse and the Times Co. has violated its contract. They hope the NLRB will force the company and Globe management to return to the bargaining table. A June 16 hearing is expected on the matter and the case could take months. Guild leaders are seeking a court order to block the imposed wage cuts while the case is being litigated.

Over 100 reporters with the Boston Globe recently sent a letter to Times Co. chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. asking him to reconsider the major cuts.

The letter says:

“Despite all the rhetoric of the last few weeks, we believe you want to do the right thing — that, at bottom, you’re a mensch (a Yiddish expression for a decent, honorable and responsible person). We’re all too aware of the awful economic climate and the precipitous challenges to the newspaper industry. Most of us went into this work because of our love for it, not for the money. We never expected high salaries; we just wanted reasonable pay, enough to make ends meet. We’re writing to you because we’re asking for you to step in and show us what we have admired about you for years — your fair-minded leadership. We’re asking you to call off the lawyers, head off a bitter fight, and come forward with a plan that would attract a bit more support from the guild.”

The letter continues, “Many of us voted against the contract because we saw it as inequitable — that we were being asked to take a steeper cut than management. If you could find a middle ground that would provide more equity — such as making our pay cut equivalent to that of management — I’m sure you’ll find significantly more support. We believe that you don’t want us to take a 23 percent pay cut. We believe you understand that the consequences of such a drastic cut would be disastrous for many of us who have worked tirelessly for the Globe for years. Not only could many of us lose homes and our child care, but too much of our top talent might no longer be able to afford to work for a newspaper that they’ve given their hearts and souls to for so long.”

The letter signed “Concerned Reporters at The Boston Globe” concludes: “Mr. Sulzberger, we’re asking for your leadership. You can make a difference. We desperately need it right now.”

Many charge the Boston Globe management does not want to head back to the bargaining table with the guild in part because it is afraid that move will unravel agreements reached with other labor groups. Leaders of the Globe’s other unions representing pressmen, drivers, mailers and other crafts were able to convince members to accept significant pay and benefits cuts because they told them there was no other option to keep the paper afloat. Last April, the Times Co. told the Globe’s unions to reduce their annual payrolls by $20 million or the paper would close. The bulk of the cuts fell upon the newspaper’s four biggest unions — the Newspaper Guild, press operators, truck drivers and mailers.

Meanwhile the Times Co. has hired investment bank Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to shop around and solicit bids from potential buyers for the Globe, which is now for sale.

plozano @ pww.org