John Henry and President Donald Trump at The White House.

NEWS STRONG news Boston, MA: Media Nation by Dan Kennedy reports 8.27.2019

Boston Globe executives sent a memo of more than 1,300 words to the staff last Friday giving them their side of the ongoing negotiations between the paper and the NewsGuild, formerly known as the Newspaper Guild. A trusted source sent it along earlier this morning, and I’m posting the full text below.

The email comes several weeks after the Guild filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board claiming unfair labor practices “given the slow pace of contract negotiations and the insulting strong-arm tactics used by the company’s lawyers.” The union staged a brief walkout as well. Interestingly, management now claims that it’s the union that’s dragging its feet.

Given that the Globe claims to have achieved profitability at the end of 2018, it strikes me as fair to ask why staff members, who’ve sacrificed in order to improve the Globe’s bottom line, shouldn’t share in that success. In the memo, management replies that those profits will disappear if costs aren’t kept under control.

“As we communicated in our 2018 year-end note to staff,” the email says, “we ended the year in the black precisely because we aggressively targeted savings across many facets of our business and carefully managed expenses to stay ahead of the structural declines we continue to see in our industry, including continued circulation and revenue declines. Most of that expense reduction has come from our production side, and it is not sustainable to continue significant cuts to the operations and staff that print, assemble and distribute the Globe every day. Rather, we must continue our vigilance in looking for efficiencies and identifying areas of real and sustainable growth in our editorial and commercial departments as well, just as all media companies are doing in today’s world to remain viable and relevant.”

The full text of the memo follows:

Dear Colleagues,

In an effort to keep you apprised of our negotiations with the Guild, we want to share an update on the current status of the negotiations after 19 bargaining sessions over eight months.

As we noted back in January, we provided the Guild’s bargaining committee with two complete contract proposals for consideration on December 6, 2018 — our first bargaining session. The first was a traditional proposal without any economics embedded, but with important operational and cleanup changes. The other was called a conditional alternative proposal, which included the same important operational and cleanup changes, but also included guaranteed annual wage increases of 2% for everyone, a 3% increase in the current 2% 401k company match, and 10 weeks of paid parental leave. The alternative proposal would have added up to 5% annually to employees’ compensation through wage increases and an increased 401k match. This alternative proposal was contingent on getting the contract settled quickly in early 2019.

The proposed 2% annual wage increases in the alternative proposal were in line with, or exceeded, annual increases at other major newspaper companies. The proposed 5% 401k match exceeded the match that most other major newspaper companies offer. The Guild rejected both, ending the possibility of an early 2019 contract settlement. At that time, we made it clear to the Guild that the Globe would not be willing to make any wage and benefit increases later agreed upon retroactive to January 1.

The one exception to that was paid parental leave. In its December 2018 proposals, the Globe offered, and the Guild accepted, 10 weeks of paid parental leave on the same terms as non-represented employees. In January, the Globe moved ahead with providing all of its employees with up to 10 weeks of paid parental leave.

The Globe has also put forth proposals to:

  • Continue providing employees with generous paid time off for vacations, sick leave and holidays — up to 47 paid days off a year, in excess of most other large city newspaper companies. Those 47 days are in addition to paid bereavement leave or short-term disability benefits, which the Globe also provides.
  • Provide the same health insurance benefits that it provides to its managers and other non-union employees, with a progressive premium cost-sharing arrangement that would allow lower paid employees to pay just 17% of the premiums and higher paid employees to pay 25%-30% of the premiums. The Globe’s proposed premium shares are, in most instances, lower than what other major newspaper companies require employees to contribute to their premiums. And, they compare favorably to national averages where employees pay about 29% of the premiums for family coverage and 18% of the premiums for single coverage (according to the Kaiser Family Foundation Survey of Employer Health Benefits).

Together, the Globe and the Guild have made progress in negotiations. We achieved tentative agreements on four full articles within the contract — including union security and dues check off that protect the Guild — and more than fifty tentative agreements on subsections, including those relating to:

  • Grievance rights
  • Grievance procedures
  • Protection of grievants
  • Parental leave
  • Sick leave
  • Union security
  • Union leave
  • Anti-discrimination
  • Diversity commitment
  • Career development and training
  • Labor Management Committee
  • Joint Committee on Workplace Equity and Diversity
  • Work week
  • Vacation pay
  • Reduced work week policy
  • Part-time employees’ sick leave
  • Part-time employees’ vacation
  • Dangerous conditions policy

The Globe has consistently tried to schedule regular meetings to bargain the contract. On Tuesday, the Guild committee cancelled this week’s bargaining session — a session that had been on the books since June 6. Moreover, they have been refusing to book regular bargaining dates through the rest of the year and has made its committee available only one or two dates each month, even though the Globe’s negotiators have requested to meet weekly. In fact, in our August 9th session, the Guild’s chief negotiator told us at the table that the Guild committee has only one single date available in October and has “nothing else to offer” for bargaining in October. The result: the Guild committee is available just three days for on-the-record bargaining between now and the end of October, after cancelling this week’s session.

We all share the common big picture goal of strengthening our newsroom and company for the challenges and opportunities we face in an ever-changing media industry. In the past few years we have undertaken a lot of new initiatives, made big investments for the long term sustainability, and went through all of our costs to be as efficient and focused as possible on fulfilling our mission. This hard work and patient endurance of a lot of change by each of us worked, with the company having revenues exceed expenses for the first time in 2018 after many, many years of operating at a loss. This is a major step towards the long-term sustainability of this institution that we are all striving for. However, we are not fully there. This step was a result of cost control, not revenue growth. We are working on new revenue generation opportunities and we need to be creative, nimble, and efficient to get there. No small part of the work we need to do is to ensure our collective bargaining contracts are structured in a way that both allows us to operate in this kind of a nimble, flexible way and provides the kinds of protections and security that the Guild is seeking.

To that end, as we have told the Guild leadership, our primary goal has not changed: modernizing our labor contract to match the realities of our business and to more closely mirror the terms of our peers in the media industry so that we can remain operationally flexible and competitive. The changes sought by the company have been accepted by unions, including the Guild, in other newsrooms in Boston and across the country. In addition, we continue to seek in negotiations to eliminate provisions in the contract that impede our commitment to diversity as the use of seniority in layoffs does; to treat our professional staff as professionals by providing strong total compensation packages, classifying employees appropriately and in alignment with others in our industry; and to have policies in place that reflect our support of working parents at BGMP [Boston Globe Media Partners, the Globe’s owner of record]. We’ve made concrete proposals to address the Guild’s concerns about our proposal to eliminate overtime for creative professionals. Keeping in perspective that most unit employees work no overtime, our proposals provide for comp time and premium pay when employees are required to work on their days off and make a commitment to adjust the salaries of some staff members who are consistently called upon to work longer hours.

To achieve these goals, Globe management is committed to continuing to bargain in good faith to reach an agreement that will allow the company to remain focused on the important work with which our community and region have entrusted us. We have and will always respect all bargaining units across our organization as we continue to drive the kind of transformation required to be a dynamic media company with a sustainable future for all our employees.

As we communicated in our 2018 year-end note to staff, we ended the year in the black precisely because we aggressively targeted savings across many facets of our business and carefully managed expenses to stay ahead of the structural declines we continue to see in our industry, including continued circulation and revenue declines. Most of that expense reduction has come from our production side, and it is not sustainable to continue significant cuts to the operations and staff that print, assemble and distribute the Globe every day. Rather, we must continue our vigilance in looking for efficiencies and identifying areas of real and sustainable growth in our editorial and commercial departments as well, just as all media companies are doing in today’s world to remain viable and relevant.

We will continue to be transparent as we proceed, just as we will continue to push for the ability to be nimble and flexible as an organization given the pace of change in our industry. We look forward to continuing to discuss these important proposals with the Guild.

Thank you,

The Globe’s Bargaining Committee

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