‘Boston Globe’ Guild Contract Ties Proposed Raises to Paper’s Revenue

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By: Joe Strupp

For the first time, The Boston Globe is making proposed salary increases for members of the Newspaper Guild contingent on the paper’s revenue, a situation that is not sitting well with a number of rank and file workers.

In addition, the revenue provision is based only on revenue from the print newspaper, not from its Web site, the profitable boston.com, guild leaders contend. Many of them oppose that restriction, noting that the contract also includes a new requirement for guild members to perform duties for the Web site.

“As a practical matter, Boston.com is not making enough money to impact our wages,” says Beth Daley a Globe reporter and member of the Boston Newspaper Guild’s governing board. “But not to include it in our wage formula is disheartening and patently unfair. It is like batting for a team that doesn’t acknowledge your hits. We are worried it is setting a dangerous precedent, not only here at the Globe but elsewhere as newspapers switch their operations online.”

The contract opposition by some guild members has prompted a petition to both union and management negotiators, urging them to renegotiate the revenue/wage provision. Petition organizers claim it has been signed by 194 of the paper’s 1,000 guild members.

“As journalists who contribute, with enthusiasm and energy and skill, to Boston.com in a variety of ways, we are writing to express our strong concern about the company’s proposal to exclude us from sharing in the success of that part of our company’s operation,” the petition says, in part. “We believe that this proposal is indefensible at a time when we are pursuing full integration of our print and online news operations.” It adds that the signers “are writing to request that you reopen negotiations to remedy this situation before asking us to vote.”

In addition, the signers state that they are “stunned by the proposal that our future pay be contingent upon revenue increases at the Globe, but not at Boston.com, to which we contribute so much, and which is so dependent on our journalistic work for its success.”

Al Larkin, Globe senior vice president, declined to comment extensively on the issue, saying in a statement, “We’ve responded in great detail to the Guild leadership regarding these issues and feel that it is inappropriate to comment further while a ratification vote by its membership is pending.”

Catherine Mathis, a spokeswoman for The New York Times Company, which owns the Globe, said the company’s only other union paper, The New York Times, did not include such a provision. When asked if the Times would try to implement such a restriction in the future, she said, “we wouldn’t comment on that.”

Boston Newspaper Guild President Dan Totten did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

The proposed guild contract, a four-year agreement retroactive to Jan. 1, 2006, was tentatively approved by union leaders last month and faces a full membership vote next week. The contract includes a $600 lump sum payment on Jan. 1, 2007, with weekly salary hikes ranging from $7.50 to $8.50 every six months through 2008.

But the agreement also includes a provision that states the wage increases will not be paid if Globe revenue for the period of the raise is less than the same period a year earlier. “We all acknowledge that the Boston Globe is losing money,” Daley said. “It is not a monetary issue, it is a moral one.” She also said, “We love The Globe and work very, very hard for it, but we need to be working for a team where the managers are on our side.”

Others who signed the petition offered similar reasons. “If you are going to tie salary increases to productivity, the contributions to [the Web site] ought to count,” said Editorial Cartoonist Dan Wasserman. “It seems to fly in the face of basic fairness.” Staff writer Charlie Pierce, who writes for The Boston Globe Magazine, agreed. “It seemed to be unusual,” he said about the wage provision. “This doesn’t really look right.”

The contract dispute comes just a year after The New York Times Company announced plans to eliminate some 500 jobs throughout the chain, including 35 in the Globe newsroom. The Globe later offered a buyout package that at least 30 staffers chose to take.

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