E&P Tech: Changes Around ‘The Boston Globe’

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By: Jim Rosenberg

Adding press towers to print more color in another big newspaper. Installing newer, larger, faster inserters to process more advertising preprints into many more zones. Selling ads across multiple products in print and electronic media. Expanding editorial zoning. Any one of these is a major project.

Not only did The Boston Globe set out to do all of them and more, but it also sought to accomplish the changes with lower staffing, less real estate, fewer on-the-job injuries, and, generally, reduced costs and increased operating efficiencies. To do so, it relied on a combination of process reviews, new equipment, and new labor agreements, borrowing in part from the experience at its parent company?s flagship. (See ?E&P Technical: Operations Overhaul? in E&P?s current print edition.)

The Globe reached an agreement with its pressmen a year before The New York Times concluded contract talks with its pressmen?s union. Like that with Times pressmen, it is a long-term contract and one among many negotiated. At the Globe — where administrative and support functions also are under review — much of the change concerns the way products are created, sold, and packaged. And a central project has been post-press expansion.

Not including its building-trades employees, the Globe reached 12 agreements with 10 unions — pressmen and paperhandlers, for example, belong to the same union but work under separate contracts. Among other units are drivers, mailers, and a small group in the newsprint warehouse (all under the same Teamsters contract), machinists, electricians (representing both the electrical shop and technical services personnel), the Boston Newspaper Guild?s members in the business and news departments, mechanics in PACE (the old petroleum and chemical workers union), and what remains of organized printers and typographers.

The Globe strives for ?collaborative? relationships with its unions, involving them with consultants it retains to review operations and communicating as much as possible about workflow changes, says Gregory L. Thornton, the paper?s senior vice president, employee relations.

?Sometimes it?s helpful to get outside sets of eyes to take a look at what you?ve been doing for the 20 years,? says Thornton, adding that the Globe hires consultants from inside and outside the newspaper industry. Non-newspaper consultants, for example, are used in ergonomics and safety reviews, the latter by an independent organization begun as a part of the DuPont Co. Thornton says safety initiatives reduced last year?s time lost to accidents by 25% and worker-compensations costs by $2 million. They include accident investigation training for and safety audits by foremen, an electronic accident reporting system and union/management safety review groups. Accountability was expanded from senior management to foremen by making safety targets part of all production and delivery managers? annual goals and bonuses.

The paperhandllers? contract permits management to determine staffing, ?and we thought we were staffing it efficiently,? says Thornton. But the consultant?s recommendations allowed for almost a 40% reduction that yields annual savings of roughly $1.2 million.

With consultants? recommendations, ?we went through that process review with the unions,? says Thornton. ?We were able to structure our reductions in casual labor force so that we didn?t have to lay off? any full-time employees.

?We went through the same consulting approach in our pressroom,? Thornton continues. That culminated in a 10-year pact with pay retroactive to the end of 2002 and wage reopeners every three years.

Where possible, the paper benchmarked staffing using levels at other papers around the country. Dating mostly from the 1980s, Globe presses can be expected to run well for years, but, explains Thornton, their minimal automation had to be factored into benchmark comparisons.

As it did with others, the Globe shared consultants? recommendations with its pressmen. But unlike their brethren who move and prepare newsprint rolls, pressmen could negotiate staffing. Thornton states management?s approach in general as, ?We negotiate changes, but say to unions that if we can get any savings, we?ll share that.?

That, he says, allows processes to be optimized and union leaders to go back to members for ratification. Acknowledging that there inevitably remains some ?arguing around the edges,? Thornton maintains that the approach has ?allowed both sides to focus and agree on important central issues.?

The pressmen?s contract, like those before it in the 1990s and much like that at the Times, cuts staff and increases management?s operating and scheduling flexibility.

The Globe?s Boston (Dorchester) building houses news and business offices and an adjoining production plant with four presses that print only the Globe. The Billerica plant runs another four lines of similar presses, one of which prints only copies of The New York Times. All press lines at both sites have Goss MetroColor tower additions dating from the mid-’90s.

Both are no longer ?significantly overstaffed,? and there is much less downtime for pressmen, because ?when the presses are running well, the activity level goes down,? Thornton says. The Times-only press has about 20 persons dedicated to it.

Though it still has the same four editions, with the third usually the longest press run, the Globe today has more color, zoning (11 editorial subzones), and sectioning than before. Press manning in the 1980s for an eight-unit run with some color required about 16 persons, according to Thornton. But as provisions of the new contract come into force over time, ?what we?ll end up with,? he says, is a seven-person crew on an eight-unit press with full color.

Although they may lack certain connections to product quality, this winter?s process reviews in the finance and IT departments have the same objectives as others: examine all tasks in detail, identify redundancies and any other unnecessary steps or wasteful procedures, and figure out how to eliminate them and create a more-streamlined process.

Next up for review, says Thornton, are the machine and electrical shops, later this year.

Changes in post-press were perhaps the most dramatic: plant closure, personnel reduction, operational consolidation, and equipment upgrade.

?The initiative for that came from several different directions,? says Thornton. Cost efficiencies were but a part of it, he says. Advertisers told the Globe it needed to be more responsive, especially with more-defined targeting of delivery.

?It became apparent,? says Thornton, that the changes required would not be supported by ?the operation that we had created back in 1993 in Westwood.? Before that third plant was created solely for packaging the Boston Sunday Globe, a separate building two doors down from the Boston plant handled Sunday inserting for a few years. Earlier, Boston and Billerica shared what had then been a much lower volume of Sunday inserting.

Faced with cutting costs while meeting advertisers? needs, managers asked if Sunday inserting could be consolidated in Boston. Billerica had no room to expand.

A plan was worked up that called for a $27.4 million, 50,000-square-foot expansion of Boston?s mailroom, where the addition of GMA SLS3000 inserters would permit ?the granularity we were looking for with advertisers,? says Thornton.

He remembers that it proved to be an exercise in speedy project approval and execution. Approval came in 2003 and ?we started … our complete Sunday operation in mid-August? of last year.

To oversee implementation of new control software, an operations planning group was created under the senior planning manager and staffed by pairs of mailroom and delivery foremen. Still in place, the group plans the integration of advertising, production, and delivery department needs using the new controls, says Thornton. It has been planning Sunday color work for production and ZIP code-level distribution scheduling and soon will move to such planning for the daily editions.

Westwood, which was closed and will be sold, ran three 28-head SLS 1000s; Boston now runs Sunday inserting on two, faster SLS3000s ? 30- and a 34-head machines, which can process more inserts in a single pass.

Beyond that, says Thornton, ?we?re also palletizing … virtually all of the Sunday product.? Not only do the two automatic palletizers from Quipp contribute to the operation?s efficiency, he adds, but they also have a occupy less space than alternative pallet-loading procedures.

Sunday insert advertisers saw their options grow from 96 preprint clusters to 276 ZIP codes.

With one less building and more-efficient inserting, the Sunday consolidation calls for fewer support personnel and lowers tax and utilities bills. ?We got a real two-for-one,? with lower costs and improved operations, says Thornton.

The project was estimated to save to Globe $4 million per year. With buyouts, some attrition and a reduction among casual and part-time workers, approximately 60 full-time-equivalent positions were eliminated across several departments, according to Thornton. Besides those operating the post-press equipment, the change affected drivers, machinists, electricians, guards, and maintenance staff.

Upstream, the changes did not spare content creation and ad sales. Representing 1,100 news and ad staffers, the Boston Newspaper Guild is the Globe?s largest union. Today, new and old products may be sold more efficiently, according to the Globe, with contract provisions for subcontracting, cross-selling by non-Globe/non-union workers, and hiring of zone-only news staffers.

Those zoned reporters aren?t really new. ?They hired people all along? for those jobs, says Boston Guild President Steve Richards, adding that they were in place during the negotiations and led the filing of a grievance. Thornton says the zone-reporter classification was implemented in a 2003 interim agreement.

?They were rather contentious negotiations? that lasted three-and-a-half years before agreement was reached last August, says Richards. The contract runs through December of this year.

?We feel like we protected our people as best we could,? having achieved the ?primary goal? of obtaining sufficient money to protect members? health insurance, says Richards. The company agreed to contribute more, while union members contribute less, he says.

The contract recognizes the zoned reporters, who, says Richards, were and still are paid less than those writing for the main news sections. But the contract awards those reporters, too, a pay increase.

Cross-selling allows ad sales staffers for other Times Co. properties to sell into Globe products and vice versa. Among properties currently cross-selling ad buys, Thornton lists the Times, The Telegram & Gazette in Worcester, Mass., boston.com, the BostonWorks print and online recruitment products, New England Sports Network, and Globe Specialty Products Richards could not say how much cross selling by non-Globe personnel may have occurred.

Further, certain non-editorial jobs may be subcontracted, the two sides having agreed to circumstances under which recourse to layoffs is permissible and severance to be offered in the event Guild jobs are lost. But there have been no layoffs to date, according to Richards, who says management told his union it had no plans at the time to utilize the provision.

Although the current contract expires at year?s end, Richards anticipates no major disputes when the next is negotiated: ?I think we put the biggest issues behind us in the last contract.?

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