This retreat follows a number of similar concessions at newspapers nationwide, as management uses the leverage of a recessionary economy to break union opposition.
Typically, the negotiations between New York Times Co. executives and Boston Globe union leaders dragged on past the original deadline Sunday night, with the largest union -- the Newspaper Guild -- holding out until 3 a.m. Tuesday morning, according to published reports.
By all accounts, these were white-knuckle discussions. In the final days of the dispute, NYTCO executives showed union leaders official paperwork they were prepared to file that announced the closing of The Boston Globe, which the unions criticized as a bullying tactic. As they sat down again Tuesday, management and labor were poles apart, with the bosses proposing a 23% pay cut and labor countering with a 3.5% cut.
Although the exact figures weren't available Wednesday afternoon, and a vote on the agreement may be several weeks off, it appears that management got almost everything it asked for, including pay cuts, reductions in benefits and other types of compensation, more unpaid furloughs, and the end of lifetime employment guarantees.
The elimination of the latter would make The Boston Globe more attractive to prospective buyers, suggesting that plans are afoot to sell the newspaper, if possible. Ominously, NYTCO management also said further layoffs are virtually inevitable, despite the concessions. The Boston Globe is on course to lose $85 million this year, even after these hard-won concessions by the unions.
The Boston Globe is just the latest in a series of newspapers visited by highly public contests between executives and unions. On Monday, the Newspaper Guild agreed to 5% cuts in pay at The New York Times, saving about $4.5 million. Once again, execs warned that layoffs may still be necessary.
Elsewhere, it has become routine for publishers to threaten closure of newspapers to extract concessions from recalcitrant unions. The trend began last year at the Newark-based Star-Ledger, where publisher George Arwady told unionized employees in September that Advance Publications would close the paper unless they agreed to pay cuts, layoffs and reduced benefits.
Hearst was able to force significant cuts on unionized employees at the San Francisco Chronicle with the same stratagem. Unions at dozens of smaller newspapers have faced the same dilemma.