Controversial ‘Boston Globe’ Contract Proposal Heading for Defeat

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By: Joe Strupp

A controversial contract proposal at The Boston Globe, which for the first time ties proposed salary increases to the paper’s revenue, may be headed for defeat, according to Boston Newspaper Guild President Dan Totten, who said the first returns from today’s voting indicate a majority is opposing the measure.

“There has been a very strong ‘No’ sentiment thus far,” said Totten, who said about 300 votes had been cast out of a potential 1,000 guild members.

In addition to the salary link, the revenue provision is based only on revenue from the print newspaper, not from its Web site, the profitable Boston.com, some guild leaders complain. 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.

“We , the executive committee made the case loud and clear at the negotiating table, that we did not want any part of the Boston.com revenues being excluded from the wage pattern,” said Totten.

Totten said voting is scheduled to continue until 9 p.m. tonight. “I think it is going down,” said Beth Daley, a Globe reporter and member of the Boston Newspaper Guild’s governing board. “People are very, very torn over it.”

The proposed contract, a four-year agreement retroactive to Jan. 1, 2006, was tentatively approved by union leaders last month, but requires a full membership approval today. The deal 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 stipulates that 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.

The contract opposition by some guild members prompted a petition to both union and management negotiators, urging them to renegotiate the revenue/wage provision. Petition organizers claimed to have at least 200 of the paper’s 1,000 guild members as signers.

“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 t 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, said last week that the paper had “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.”

Totten, who was among the guild negotiators who tentatively approved the agreement, said he did not like the controversial provisions, but sought to allow the full membership to decide. “The approach was to get it in front of the membership and gauge their temperature,” he said.

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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