Why Boston Globe Management, Union Had to Settle

Prior to reaching a tentative agreement announced Tuesday night, Boston Newspaper Guild members voted no by a narrow margin on a pay cut and package of other cost-cutting concessions. But did no mean no? Not really.
As I foreshadowed during the epic labor fight, the subsequent "routine" meeting in which management would impose its "final offer" of a 23 percent pay cut had considerable potential to turn into a quick, face-saving compromise instead. As it did.
Saber-rattling rhetoric aside, neither party had incentive to prolong the fight. For the Guild, the calculus was straightforward. Would you prefer a salary cut of 8.3 percent (10 percent including lost pay for furlough days) or one of 23 percent? Once it was clear that management was not bluffing -- and that appeals to the National Labor Relations Board would be a pig in a poke for Guild members -- self-interest and logic pointed strongly to some quick revisions and a redo of the vote.
The Guild dilemma reminded one friend of a cartoon, showing Patrick Henry in the custody of several British redcoats sticking bayonets in his ribs with Henry saying, "Perhaps, I should rephrase that."
Management had its own reasons to work out a settlement. The contract voted down, the imposition of a 23 percent cut or this new Plan C all yield roughly the same savings. But if Plan C translates to labor peace, that has the big advantage of making it possible to sell the paper, should the parent New York Times Company choose to go that route, to buyers who might otherwise have been scared away.
The other subtext to the settlement was the Guild's weak bargaining leverage since the beginning. What were they going to do -- strike? That might, at best, amount to a longish furlough and hiatus on losing money for the Globe's management and owners. Or it could end up shutting down the place.
You would expect the Guild to be outflanked in strategy and legal tactics (management has a big kitty to pay for the best of advisers on these matters). Management also scored by emphasizing the stubborn defense in the no vote of so-called lifetime job guarantees for longtime members -- a nice guarantee if you can get it, but distinctly out of step with the uncertainty of employment nearly everyone faces in this recession. 
Globe journalists come away with a smaller pay cut than originally proposed (closer to the 5 percent temporary cut imposed on management) and partial compensation for the 23 percent cut that was recently implemented in the face of the negotiation impasse.

In the end, they will still have less pay, worse benefits and no assurance that further cuts can be avoided if the economy stays stuck in the mud. None of that is good -- but Globe reporters and editors have plenty of company.
Boston readers will live with less (they too have plenty of company). But last I looked during a March visit, the Globe was breaking stories important to Massachusetts almost daily. A tightened Globe with a new lease on life and some prospects of finding a local patron to buy and reinvest is a whole lot better for Boston than no Globe at all. 


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