Boston Globe reaches deal with big union

/ Source: The Associated Press

The Boston Globe and its largest employees union reached a tentative agreement early Wednesday on concessions that will keep the 137-year-old newspaper publishing, the union president said.

The breakthrough came about 4 a.m. after nearly 11 hours of negotiations, said Dan Totten, president of the Boston Newspaper Guild. Both sides agreed not to release details, pending a meeting of guild members scheduled for Thursday.

The agreement is subject to approval by members of the guild, which represents about 700 editorial, business and advertising staff.

The Globe, owned by The New York Times Co. had set a deadline of midnight Sunday to reach an agreement with its unions on $20 million in cuts to annual expenses. The company had threatened to close the Globe.

The Times Co. struck agreements with six of seven unions before the deadline, then resumed talks Tuesday evening with the guild. In those talks, the Globe had proposed to slash guild wages by as much as 23 percent to gain concessions of $10 million from that union.

An employee familiar with the tentative agreement said the proposed pay cut is significantly less than 23 percent, but higher than the total 5 percent the guild proposed on Sunday. The employee was not authorized to release details and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Employees were guarded in their response.

“I think everybody is breathing a sigh of relief that there’s at least a tentative agreement to keep the Globe publishing, which we all recognize was our top priority,” said Scott Allen, a reporter who has been with the Globe for 16 years.

“But it’s really hard for any of us to draw conclusions about the agreement until we know how deep is the pay cut, how many benefits are we going to lose, how much seniority protection have we lost. I can’t tell you as I sit here whether I support it or not.”

The Times Co. also sought to change provisions granting some employees lifetime job guarantees, a key sticking point. At least one of the smaller unions agreed to modify the guarantees for its members, but the guild resisted, at least initially.

Nearly 470 employees across six unions have the guarantees, including about 190 Newspaper Guild members. Most got the promises in a contract ratified in 1994, shortly after the Times Co. bought the Globe for $1.1 billion, in exchange for other concessions at the time. Workers can still be fired for cause, but the newspaper says the guarantees hamper its ability to pare its operations.

The Times Co., which overall lost $74.5 million in the first quarter, has said that of all its newspaper properties, the Globe has been the most dramatically affected by the recession, the advertising downturn and the migration of readers online. The Globe had $50 million in operating losses in 2008 and had been projected to lose $85 million this year.