- Updated: Boston Globe, Guild Agree To Agree, But What Does It Mean?

Staci D. Kramer
Wednesday, May 6, 2009; 7:06 PM

The Boston Globe and its largest union went back to the table Tuesday, finally reaching an agreement in the wee hours Wednesday that appears to include changes to the so-called lifetime guarantee for 190 employees. Some details are leaking out, despite promises from management and the Boston Newspaper Guild to keep it quiet until the union can present the deal to its members Thursday.

According to the Globe, citing a person briefed on the negotiations, the concessions the Guild will vote on Thursday amount to a 10 percent wage cut?8.5 percent in salary and an additional unpaid five-day furlough. Some pension contributions will be frozen, 401K contributions will stop and the company wins on eliminating the job guarantees.

The Globe (which has done a good job with the tough task of covering itself) reports that Guild members were warned before a deal was reached that a "large layoff" was likely no matter the outcome. The Guild was told by the company in early April that it had to come up with half of the $20 million in concessions needed to keep the paper open; the union said it offered slightly more than the $10 million required. But the company countered with a 23 percent wage cut and a demand for changes in job security. Currently, roughly one-third of the Guild's 600 members can be fired only for cause, not laid off for economic reasons.

So, what does it mean?

The Boston Globe isn't dying today?and it wasn't dying Sunday night, either. The company's tactics freaked even some hardened union observers into believing that might be the case?and some journalists into full Chicken Little mode?but this isn't the way a company that's ready to pull the plug acts. If the New York Times (NYSE: NYT) management and board agreed that was what was wanted or needed this minute, the intent-to-closure filing would have been made and the real D clock would have started ticking.

Ask former Circuit City employees. I walked past the carcass of a store Sunday that even in tough times earlier this year was taking in real money. But the company it was part of was completely incapable of getting its act together?and, while plenty of outsiders are ready to pour dirt on the coffin, the New York Times Co. hasn't hit that point.

Instead, it buys some time and gets to look tough to its shareholders, creditors?and prospective owners; if a recovery is at hand, these concessions could help the paper wait it out long enough to see gains in advertising. At the same time, though, Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and company reinforced a sense of remoteness from Boston, and the impact of its decisions leaves a bad taste and could have repercussions should the company try anything as dramatic as meshing its New York and Boston staffs or even finding other ways to cooperate. Then again, that's as likely as the Yankees winning a series against the Red Sox these days.

Photo Credit: Reuters


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