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Globe contract rejection: point the finger at the Times Co.

 

When the media gaggle outside the Boston Globe's Dorchester HQ heard the final tally in today's big union vote--277 nay, 265 yea--everyone began buzzing about how close the outcome was. As one person put it: "Those are George Bush numbers."

When you think about it, it's actually pretty remarkable that the New York Times Co.'s contract proposal to the Boston Newspaper Guild, the paper's biggest union, lost as narrowly as it did. I say this not because the proposal itself was draconian: given the economic condition of the country in general and the newspaper industry in particular, it really wasn't.

What makes today's result surprising, instead, is that--in retrospect--so many things happened (or didn't happen) that gave the Globe's members reason to vote "No." Consider:

--When the threat to close was first announced, both Times Co. and Globe management seemed intent on declining all requests for comment, an approach that made them seem callous and aloof.

--Neither Times Co. chairman Arthur Sulzberger nor CEO Janet Robinson ever visited the Globe to express their regret and press their case for concessions in person, a glaring omission that had a similar effect.

--The Times Co.'s concede-or-close ultimatum was delivered when Globe editor Marty Baron was traveling in Oregon, and Baron only learned it was in the works the night before. Baron could have been instrumental in helping management make its case to the newsroom and the paper as a whole. Instead, he later offered pointed public criticism (on WGBH-TV's Greater Boston) of how the Times Co. had handled the situation.

--At a crucial point in negotiations with the Guild, management said it had made a significant math error. At the same time, management also refused to extend the stated deadline for negotiations, thereby creating unity in the Guild's hitherto-fragmented ranks

Throw in the fact that Tom Friedman's bottomless travel budget hit the pages of the New Yorker at a pretty awkward time, and the willingness of nearly half the Guild to accept some steep sacrifices looks pretty damn admirable.

And if you're like me, you find yourself wondering: if just one of these disincentives to sacrifice had been removed--if, for example, Arthur Jr. had managed to make the trip from New York to Boston sometime over the past few weeks--would the Globe's labor troubles be a thing of the past right now? 

There's no way to answer that question, of course. But it's certainly reasonable to wonder why the Times Co. didn't make more of an effort to win the hearts and minds of Guild members.

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