Boston Newspaper Guild leadership: Just vote "No" on July 20?


Back on June 8, you may recall, the Boston Newspaper Guild narrowly rejected a controversial contract proposal from the New York Times Co. That proposal had a few things working against it, including the Times Co.'s shoddy salesmanship and a lack of support from Guild leadership. Technically, the Guild neither backed nor opposed the proposal. In reality, though, comment from Guild head Dan Totten strongly suggested that he wanted his members to vote "No."

In contrast, the latest proposal--which goes to a vote this coming Monday, July 20--bears the Guild's official stamp of approval.  As a Globe article on the latest proposal put it:

Union leaders are recommending the proposal, which still includes the main concessions demanded by the Times Co.: a total of $10 million in savings, the elimination of lifetime job guarantees for some veteran members, and a pension freeze. Nonetheless, Guild president Daniel Totten said, union negotiators were able to improve the contract offer.

But is the Guild really supporting the contract proposal in question? Or is it just pretending it does?

Consider: At a June 24 meeting, I'm told, Guild VP Scott Steeves--the top Guild official in attendance, thanks to Totten's absence--was asked about the Guild's endorsement.  In reply, Steeves explained that the Guild's endorsement was a required part of the tentative agreement struck by the union and management, and added: "Do I think it's a good deal? You're going to have to read between the lines."

After Steeves spoke, Guild attorney David Wanger explained that--in labor negotiations following a contract rejection--it's standard practice for management to request official union endorsement of a new contract proposal. Wanger then closed by asking Guild members not to pursue this line of questioning.

Fast forward to yesterday, when Guild members received a financial analysis from Bonnie Hanisch, the Guild's healthcare consultant. The message in question, one recipient says, was sent by Hanisch using the Guild's email system--and according to Hanisch herself, she prepared it at the request of the Guild's executive committee and governing board.

In her email, Hanisch explains that the bottom-line difference between a "Yes" and "No" vote doesn't have to be that substantial--just $24.42 in the scenario she cites, assuming a voluntary reduction in 401(k) deductions. (Hanisch also forecasts a huge healthcare savings in the event of a "No" vote; one critic complains that this forecast implies that finite employee healthcare reserves can be applied in perpetuity.)

It gets stranger. Last night, fliers asserting that Guild employees could actually save $21.92 per week by voting "No" were left in the Globe's newsroom. These fliers cited Hanisch's email and provided her contact information. It's not clear, at the moment, who created or distributed the fliers; it's also not clear how the pro-"No" math changed from a (alleged) $24.42 weekly loss to a $21.92 weekly gain.

Throw in the fact that last night's Guild meeting was scheduled for 5:30--and thereby quite a bit harder for newsroom employees to attend than previous meetings, which have generally started at 6:30--and the net result is a powerful sense, among the Globe newsroom's "Yes" contingent, that the Guild's endorsement is a sham. 

"The first time, they said they were neutral, and they were a 'No,'" says one. "The second time, they said they'd endorse and recommend [the contract]. And again they're a 'No.'"

I've called Totten for comment; if he responds, I'll post an update here.

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