BOSTON – Union members at The Boston Globe narrowly rejected steep cuts in their pay and benefits Monday, prompting the newspaper to immediately impose even steeper reductions in hopes of cutting $10 million in annual expenses and staving off a shutdown from parent company, The New York Times Co.
The Boston Newspaper Guild, which represents 700 editorial, advertising and business employees, voted 277-265 Monday against the new contract negotiated after the Times Co. said it needed $20 million in annual savings from Globe unions — half from the Guild.
Six other Globe unions have approved concessions — but they hinged on the Guild's ratification of new terms.
The Times Co. had said that if the Guild rejected the proposal, it would try to impose a 23 percent wage cut. It also could follow through on an earlier threat to close the 137-year-old newspaper, which would require giving 60 days notice to employees and the state.
In a statement released after the vote, the Globe said it was disappointed with the outcome and has no "financially viable alternative" but to declare an impasse and impose the deeper wage cut to achieve the necessary savings.
"This evening we have sent a letter to the Guild stating that as a result of the rejection of this proposal, we have reverted to our alternative Final Record Proposal which provides for a 23 percent wage reduction for all Guild members," the statement read.
The cut would be effective next week. The Globe said the newspaper would be willing to meet with the union this week to review implementation of the cut.
About 80 percent of union members voted on the concessions. Union leaders had presented the contract offer to the union without a recommendation either way.
Union president Dan Totten said the vote reflected the feelings of the rank-and-file and he called for a resumption of bargaining.
"With today's vote, members of the Boston Newspaper Guild have said that the New York Times Co. must do better than the offer that was presented," Totten said in a statement. "The Boston Newspaper Guild is committed to resuming good-faith negotiations with The New York Times Company and Globe management to reach an agreement."
The contract included an 8.3 percent wage cut, five-day unpaid furloughs and cuts in health care benefits, 401(k) contributions and pensions. It also would have eliminated lifetime job guarantees for 190 Guild workers. Most got those promises in exchange for other concessions in a contract ratified in 1994, shortly after the Times Co. bought the Globe for $1.1 billion.
Employees at dozens of other newspapers have recently agreed to pay and benefit cuts, but those proposed to the Globe's Guild members would have been among the deepest.
"I think we hope the New York Times Co. comes to its senses and takes away the gun pointed at our heads," said Brian Mooney, a reporter who voted against the contract.
Mooney predicted that if the Times followed through on its threat to declare an impasse, the Guild would file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. Totten, the union president, refused to say what action the union was contemplating.
"I'm terrified. I'm on pins and needles waiting for the other shoe to drop," said Donovan Slack, the newspaper's city hall bureau chief who voted yes on the contract because she said she could not to afford to gamble with a quarter of her pay.
"I think a 23 percent pay cut is bound to cost us a lot of very talented journalists," she said.
The Times Co. demanded the $20 million in annual concessions amid an increasingly dire financial situation at the Globe. The newspaper has struggled as readers migrated to the Internet, advertising revenue declined drastically and circulation fell. The Globe had $50 million in operating losses in 2008 and had been projected to lose $85 million this year.
"It is essential and nonnegotiable that we achieve $10 million in cost savings from the Guild," Publisher P. Steven Tinselly wrote in a memo to Guild members last week. "Our financial situation is too urgent and further delays to resolution are not an option."
Teamsters Local 259, which represents the Globe's delivery drivers, voted 89-69 Sunday in favor of roughly $2.5 million in wage and benefit cuts. A machinists union representing fewer than 30 employees rejected concessions that day, the first union to do so.
Union workers at The New York Times agreed last month to accept a 5 percent pay cut through the end of the year and take 10 days paid vacation to help the newspaper avert more layoffs. Management plans to restore pay to its previous levels next year if the newspaper's advertising revenue rebounds.