Unions’ concessions buy time for Boston Globe

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BOSTON — Negotiators for the New York Times Co. and the Boston Globe have reached a temporary detente in the battle over the Boston newspaper’s future as a result of concessions offered by six of the seven Globe unions.

A temporary halt in plans to shutter the paper was agreed to by both parties Monday, which lets negotiations continue between the parent Times Co. and the remaining union, the Boston Newspaper Guild.

“Right now we do not have any negotiation sessions scheduled,” Globe spokesman Robert Powers said in an interview. However, talks are likely to resume soon, and the newspaper is “very pleased” that a Times Co. threat to file a required 60-day notice of closure will go unfulfilled for now.

Under a federal plant-closing law, the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, companies must notify the state and employees at least 60 days in advance of closing shop.

The Guild represents more than 600 writers, editors and advertising and marketing staff members, as well as some administrative workers. The six other unions include drivers, mailers, pressmen, electricians, machinists and technical-services workers.

Cost-cutting measures hammered out by the six unions and the Times Co. must now be approved by union members. But the Globe said in a statement that the parties anticipate that the measures will “achieve both the workplace flexibility and the financial savings that we sought from these unions.”

The Times Co. had threatened to close the paper after midnight Sunday if Globe unions did not come up with $20 million in belt-tightening measures. Some $10 million in cost cutting must still be hashed out with the Guild, whose members are particularly protective of lifetime job guarantees held by nearly 190 members.

Guild leaders negotiated an extension of the original deadline from Friday to Sunday due to an accounting error on the part of the Times Co. over some $4.5 million in cuts. The Times Co. had initially offered the Guild what it described as $14 million in possible cuts and directed them to select $10 million. But once the accounting error was discovered, the Times really only had put $10 million in cuts on the table.

The $4.5 million accounting error mistakenly included salaries and benefits of 80 Guild employees who have left the paper this year. Because of the glitch, Guild leaders argued they needed more time to select palatable cost savings.

The Times Co. purchased the Globe for $1.1 billion in 1993, and has seen profits plummet in recent years because of declining ad revenue. The 137-year-old Globe is expected to lose $85 million this year.

From the editorial side, the New York Times has maintained a solidly pro-union position.

“There is little doubt that American workers need unions,” the New York Times editorial board wrote in a February 2008 editorial. “A bill that would have made it easier for unions to organize workers died in the Senate last June. Congress should take up this issue again to stop companies from using threats and other aggressive tactics to keep organized labor out, and to help win workers their rightful share of the economic pie.”

From the corporate side, a spokeswoman for the Times Co. said the company believed in the “fair treatment” of every employee, but that the editorial board is not a mouthpiece for the business as a whole.

“Each of our 18 daily newspapers has independent editorial control, and the business side has no say in the positions taken by our editorial boards,” Times Co. spokeswoman Catherine Mathis said in e-mail. “So there could be disagreement between the position of the business and editorial sides and between the editorial sides of our various newspapers.”

Massachusetts politicians have been vocal in their support for the Globe, with members of the congressional delegation signing onto a letter last month to Times Co. Chairman Arthur Sulzberger urging him to rescue the Globe.

“The Boston Globe has always been a valuable resource and its closing would be a great loss,” Rep. Mike Capuano, Massachusetts Democrat, told The Washington Times. “I hope I am reading it for years to come.”

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