The Boston Globe’s largest union last night called on The New York Times Co. to extend today’s deadline for reaching agreement on millions of dollars in concessions after revealing that an accounting mistake by management has suddenly removed $4.5 million in possible givebacks from the table.
The error, which leaders of the Boston Newspaper Guild said was revealed to them late Wednesday night, complicates already difficult negotiations aimed at saving the Globe, which is projected to lose some $85 million this year.
The paper’s owner, The New York Times Co. has set today as the deadline for reaching agreement on $20 million in concessions from the paper’s unions, including $10 million from the Guild, which represents more than 600 editorial, advertising, and business office workers.
The Times Co. has threatened to shutter the Globe unless it gains the union concessions.
Management had originally given the Guild a menu of possible cuts that totaled about $14 million from which the Guild could choose $10 million, according to union officials. But in making those calculations, the company mistakenly included the salaries and benefits of 80 Guild employees who have left the paper since Jan. 1 through buyouts, layoffs, and resigna tions, union officials said.
The company recently revised the calculations to reflect the departure of these workers, reducing the total value of the menu to about $10 million from the original $14 million. That means Guild employees face even deeper cuts in salaries and benefits to achieve the demanded savings.
"This is a huge, huge mistake by the company," said Daniel Totten, the Guild president. "They should credit us with the three weeks we spent negotiating in good faith. Let’s extend the clock."
Robert Powers, the Globe’s spokesman, said the company doesn’t comment on negotiations. Negotiations with the Guild are scheduled to resume this morning.
The accounting error adds to the likelihood that unions at Globe will not meet today’s deadline. Progress, however, has been reported in other union negotiations, according to Globe management and union officials, and employees hope that the Times Co. will not make good on its threat to shutter New England’s largest newspaper.
"I believe that if Globe management feels they’re close to agreements – at least with the four major unions – they will consider extending the deadline," said Martin Callaghan, the union president representing about 93 active pressmen and 25 paper handlers at the Globe. "Let’s put it this way: We’re optimistic that they’ll do that."
Late yesterday, a Times Co. spokeswoman declined to comment about what missing today’s deadline might mean for the unions, the employees, or the Globe at large. "Negotiations are continuing," said Catherine Mathis in an e-mail.
But as of yesterday afternoon, the newspaper’s New York-based parent company had not begun the process of formally closing the Globe. Under the federal plant closing law, the Times Co. would have to provide 60 days’ notice of a shutdown to the state and to employees, according to Ken Messina, manager of Rapid Response, the state program that provides services to employees affected by plant closings and mass layoffs.
The Times Co. had not filed such a notice as of yesterday, Messina said. And in a memo to staff, Globe publisher P. Steven Ainsley yesterday suggested that the dark clouds that have lingered at the paper for the last month will soon lift, and that the paper will "emerge from this difficult period in better shape than when we entered it."
"By all accounts the talks have been substantive," Ainsley wrote of the ongoing union negotiations, "and while there is much work yet to be done it is fair to say all parties are negotiating sincerely. The stakes are simply too big to do otherwise and it is apparent all involved understand this."
But still, with no word from the Times Co. about the fate of the Globe, there was plenty of worry to go around yesterday.
The prevailing belief was that the Times Co., noting the progress of the negotiations, would delay drastic measures, like shutting down the paper. And inside Globe offices on Morrissey Boulevard, staffers tried to work like it was any other day.
"I think people are very somber and anxious," said Beth Daley, a reporter and delegate for the Boston Newspaper Guild, the paper’s largest union representing editorial, advertising, and business office employees. "But I do feel an undercurrent of hope based on the knowledge that both sides are working really, really hard to come up with an agreement."
Still, given the Globe’s financial predicament, and the Times Co.’s looming ultimatum, yesterday was a strange and uncertain day in the paper’s 137-year history. Everyone had questions, including customers, said Jordana Wallace, a supervisor of classified advertising at the Globe.
"They say, ‘Are you going to be open? Should I still place my ad?’ And we say, ‘Yes. As far as we know, we’ll still be here,’ " said Wallace, a Globe employee for some 24 years.
"It’s crazy. It’s up in the air. We try to be positive. But I can definitely hear the angst in reps’ voices when the question is asked. And they try to put up a good front because, of course, everyone is nervous."
Unions have been huddling with management all week in a quest to meet today’s deadline, which just a week ago Times Co. executives said was firm. The pressmen and paper handlers union negotiated for over 12 hours on Tuesday, union officials said. The union representing about 250 full- and part-time mailers bargained for about 10 hours on Wednesday, said Mary White, president of Teamsters Local 1.
"We did make some serious progress," White said.
But neither the mailers nor the pressmen unions have another scheduled time to meet with management today, making it seem virtually impossible for them to reach an agreement by the deadline.
In his memo to the staff, Ainsley said the sacrifices must be shared by everyone, including management.
"Management," Ainsley said, "has already reduced 2009 compensation by at least 16% when you factor in both the wage reduction and the elimination of all incentive compensation."
But in a competing memo circulated around the newsroom late yesterday, reporter Brian C. Mooney said "that’s just spin for our consumption as contract negotiations enter a crucial phase."
Amid such tensions, people are waiting to see what might unfold today when the Times Co.’s deadline comes and goes.
"If for some reason things collapse and the Globe were to close, it would be the first major city to lose its dominant newspaper," said Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. "So I think people all over the country in the world of journalism are watching the situation in Boston closely."
But like many Globe staffers, Rosenstiel and other observers simply don’t see a scenario where the Times Co. would move today to announce the shut down of the Globe, a paper the Times bought for $1.1 billion in 1993.
"I continue to hear nothing but great consternation around the community about the potential loss of the paper," said Paul Grogan, president of the Boston Foundation. "People know it’s a dire situation. But it seems so unimaginable to people that a city this vital could lose its daily paper, its major daily paper."