Look for New York Times labor deal by early November, if at all

If the mediation process between the New York Times management and Guild is going to produce a deal, it will probably come within the next month, Guild President Bill O’Meara said in an interview Thursday.

“If we’re going to have a settlement, it is going to happen between now and probably early November,” O’Meara told Poynter.

The primary motivation is the new proposed pension plan, which would be best implemented at the start of a calendar year. To do that, notices and paperwork would have to be in process by mid-November, he said.

The two sides have mostly agreed on the structure of the plan, which provides a lifetime defined benefit for retirees while hedging the company’s risk concerns. “But the amount of money the company is going to contribute is a big issue,” O’Meara said. The amount of money the company will contribute to medical benefits and wages are also big issues, he said.

“It’s all about money,” said Walter Baranger, a Times editor and union member who has observed some of the negotiations. “It’s probably the total pot amount. My guess is the company has a maximum amount in their head that they want to spend, total. And dividing it up is probably just paperwork. It’s probably the total amount that needs to move.”

He thinks the Guild has a pretty good case to make.

“The company spent $25 million to make Janet Robinson happy, to make her go away. A fraction of that would have settled this contract,” Baranger told me. “And the company is sitting on close to $1 billion right now in cash, and we’re asking for a small percentage of that.”

People around the Times aren’t sure the mediation will work, but everyone seems hopeful that it will, Baranger said. And that’s an important sign.

“Mediators sometimes get authority — if both parties believe in their mediator,” Baranger said. “He obviously can’t force the parties into something they don’t want. But there’s wheedling and cajoling that can be done when he detects that the people want to be led to a solution and they just need a strong hand to help pull them there.”

“Cautiously optimistic,” is how O’Meara described his feelings entering mediation. “We’ve called in somebody who I think is the best mediator in the business, at least in this area, and we’re hoping he’s going to be able to bring the two sides together.”

The Times management declined to discuss specifics with us, but provided a statement that Publisher Arthur Sulzberger sent to employees: “We remain committed to reaching a fair contract settlement with the Guild. It is our hope that this settlement comes soon so that we can all return our complete focus to producing the highest quality journalism that readers of The New York Times have come to expect from us.”

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