<i>Globe</i> Contract Math Adds Up to Slightly Better Deal for Union Employees

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For Boston Globe Newspaper Guild members slogging to the polls Monday for a second summer contract vote, it's like a choice between a punch in the gut now or being slapped upside the head later. Either is painful, but there are degrees of pain.

Analyzing the new offer against the proposal narrowly voted down June 8, the main point is pretty straightforward. This one substitutes a 5.9 percent pay cut for an 8.4 percent one in the earlier offer. However, it increases unpaid furlough days from five to eight. So the effective total lost pay is now 9 percent annually versus 10.3 percent in the old plan.
That is 1.3 percentage points better, which qualifies as an improvement, if a small one. Management will achieve its target of $10 million in 2009 savings with adjustments of vacation pay, health plan contributions and other arcane benefit and work rule details.
There is a little kicker management added (and the Guild agreed to) that will help seal the deal. You will recall that after the first contract vote failed, management imposed a 23 percent wage cut, its "last offer," thus getting all the desired $10 million savings through a hit to Guild paychecks. That hurt to the point of disrupting family finances for some affected employees.
If the new plan is ratified, Guild members will be offered "wage mitigation" -- described as a lump sum payment making up some of the difference between the low wages of recent weeks and the milder pay cut going forward. In return, the Globe will make a smaller contribution to the Guild health plan. 
So, difference two in the new proposal is to put less of the pain in the immediacy of pay cuts and more into deferred losses of softer benefits.
This proposal is endorsed by Guild leadership, which was officially neutral but seemed to be signaling a "no" vote the first time around. That and weariness with the protracted fight could make a difference, even absent the modest improvements in contract terms.
The deal for Globe workers may be worse, but only slightly, from what is becoming the new industry norm. McClatchy is cutting 15 percent of jobs and imposing a pay cut of 6 percent for those earning over $50,000 and 3 percent for those earning less. Gannett is eliminating 1,400 jobs -- 3 percent -- this month in its community newspaper division, after a 10 percent reduction company-wide last year and is requiring all workers to take 10 unpaid furlough days in 2009.
There may well be more of the same -- including another round of buyout/layoffs at the Globe -- if the ad slump stays as bad in the second half of 2009 as it has been in the first.


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