When the Boston Newspaper Guild, the Boston Globe's largest union, decided to take the New York Times Company's latest contract offer to its members last week, ratification seemed like a done deal. True, the offer's provisions — a pay cut of roughly 10 percent, pension freeze, no more 401(k) matches, elimination of lifetime-job guarantees — were grim. But since the alternatives seem to be either a whopping 23 percent pay cut or the paper shutting down altogether, you'd figure union members would grit their teeth and acquiesce.
By failing to act on its original 30-day deadline for closing the Globe, which came and went on May 1, the Times Co. may have invited more pushback from the paper's unions as they debate the latest contract proposals.
Surprisingly, though, the opposition seems to have plenty of support. During a Guild membership meeting this past week, for example, reporter Brian Mooney — who's been an especially vocal critic of the Times Co.'s handling of the Globe, and who, like a third of the Guild's members, has (for now) a lifetime guarantee — got an enthusiastic response when he reportedly announced that, if the Times Company was going to cut his throat, he wasn't going to hand them the knife. And over the weekend, a Guild member e-mailed me with a prediction: if a vote were taken tomorrow, the Times Co. proposal would definitely be rejected.
But would the union really take that risk?
"This isn't something that anyone in their gut would want to vote for," Globe reporter and Guild member Scott Helman tells the Phoenix. "But it's important to remember that these things have a sort of life span. It's still pretty early, so I think a lot of the opinions that you're hearing are visceral reactions to [the Times Co.'s proposal]."
When a vote is taken on June 8, adds Helman, "The question will be: is there enough anger and resentment that hundreds of people will vote against it? I just don't know. To me, the operative question is, 'What's the alternative?' "
Like Helman, news-desk copy editor Michael Bailey seems inclined to vote for the offer. But he's not happy about it.
"The imposed offer provides an opportunity to sustain the Globe, at least in intermediate terms," Bailey writes via e-mail. "But I would vote yes with a heavy heart and not a little anger. If the Times Co. is truly interested in making this work, why did they not match union pay cuts with managers' cuts? Why do managers keep pension additions and unions' are frozen? Why did no one from New York deign to address Globe employees — managers and union members — directly and in person to explain their position?"
As of this writing, the Times Co.'s contract proposals await ratification by six of the Globe's seven major unions. And as the paper's most-populous union, the Guild's decisions will have outsize importance. If Times Co. chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and CEO and president Janet Robinson really want to save the paper, there's still time to convince skeptical Globe employees of corporate good faith — perhaps by scheduling a trip to Boston. (Note to Sulzberger: you'd better bring the moose.)