Globe shutdown deadline extended

Progress made; reprieve until midnight tomorrow

By Robert Gavin and Keith O'Brien
Globe Staff / May 2, 2009
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The Boston Globe received an eleventh-hour reprieve early this morning when its owner, the New York Times Co., agreed to extend the deadline for unions to agree to $20 million in concessions until tomorrow.

More than a half-hour after the midnight deadline passed, Globe management said enough progress had been made in talks with unions that the Times Co. would wait at least another two days before acting on its threat to shutter the Globe. Any agreement would still have to be ratified by each union's members.

"Because there has been progress on reaching needed cost savings, The Boston Globe will extend the deadline for reaching complete agreements with its unions until midnight Sunday May 3," Globe spokesman Robert Powers said in a statement.

Globe management released the statement as negotiators from management and the Globe's largest union, the Boston Newspaper Guild, conducted another marathon bargaining session that began yesterday morning and stretched past midnight. The Times Co. is seeking $10 million, or half of all union concessions, from the Guild, which represents more than 600 editorial, advertising, and office workers.

"We have given the New York Times Co. and Globe management proposals for deep cuts in our members' pay and benefits that we believe will save The Boston Globe," Daniel Totten, Guild president, said in a statement. "We are awaiting the company's response."

Talks between the Guild and the company are scheduled to resume tomorrow, according to a union spokesman.

Last night's announcement extends a grueling month of negotiations and uncertainty that began in early April when the Times Co. called together leaders of the paper's 13 unions and told them it would shutter the Globe unless it gained $20 million in concessions by May 1. The Globe, which lost $50 million last year, is projected to lose another $85 million this year without significant cost savings, according to the Times Co.

Over the past week, management has held virtually nonstop negotiations with its biggest unions: meeting Tuesday with the pressmen; Wednesday, with the mailers and Boston Newspaper Guild; Thursday, with the delivery truck drivers; and yesterday again with the Guild.

Negotiations between the company and the Guild have been the most contentious. Over the past few days the already difficult negotiations became complicated by what union officials described as an accounting mistake by management, which, late Wednesday night, suddenly removed $4.5 million in potential givebacks from the table.

In calculating the value of potential concessions, management had mistakenly included 80 Guild employees who have left the Globe through buyouts, layoffs, and resignations since January, according to union officials. Once the wages and benefits of those employees were factored out, it reduced the value of the potential concessions available to the Guild. When negotiations began a month ago, the company provided a menu of possible salary and benefit cuts that it valued at $14 million, but now that same menu is valued at about $10 million. There has been no clear public explanation of how 80 people could have such a dramatic impact.

As a result, Guild employees are facing the shock of cuts that could be deeper than they thought, union officials said. Company officials declined to comment.

Many members were stunned to learn of the error, and concerned about its impact on reaching an agreement. But it also seemed to galvanize the fractious union as members focused their anger at the company.

"Jaws were dropping when news of the 'mistake' swept through the newsroom and the rest of the building," said Sean P. Murphy, a Globe reporter since 1987. "But I think it has brought union members closer together as we absorb this shocking development."

Marguerite Courage, who has worked 44 years in advertising, said it was hard to believe the company could make such a mistake.

"It's a sad commentary," said Courage. "You kind of hope you're going in the right direction and then you take a step back."

From the press room to the mail room, from bright, glass-windowed offices to dark, cluttered cubicles, many of the Globe's 2,100 employees tried to go about their work like it was any other Friday.

Reporters worked the phones for stories. Paper handlers moved 1,500-pound rolls of newsprint to the presses. Press operators, with their names emblazoned on their shirts, ran the presses, churning out today's paper, and sales representatives sold advertising for papers to be published in the days and weeks ahead.

But a typical Friday it was not. The hours leading to the deadline were filled with questions: What was the latest? Did the unions have a deal? Was the Globe going to avert the shutdown?

Editors attending the morning news meeting were greeted by the song, "Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)" playing from the computer of multimedia editor Thea Breite. "At least it's not Taps," said Globe Editor Martin Baron.

With little insight into how the talks were going, employees lingered in pockets, swapping gossip, and thinking about what they might do if the unthinkable happened, and the Times Co. chose to close the paper.

"That's on the minds of a lot of people. What do you do?" said Bobby Gott, vice chairman in the mail room, where employees prepare the paper for delivery.

"You get here right out of high school, come into the union with good benefits. It's the American dream, have everything, be middle class," said Gott, a second generation employee. "We work hard for our money and stuff like that. And to have all that taken away at the ripe old age of 40 would be a scary situation."

Gott, a father of two, was trying not to think about it, and security guards Mike Walsh and Ron Guevin were trying to do the same, even as they monitored the comings and goings of television crews gathering outside the paper's Dorchester headquarters to cover what was happening, or not happening, inside the paper.

"What'll happen is what will happen," said Walsh. "You can't change it."

And yet, for many it was impossible not to ponder the future.

"We've been printing the paper our whole entire lives," said Bill Admirand, a pressman at the paper for 35 years. "Christmas, New Year's, Thanksgiving. Rain, snow, everything. This is all I know."

Admirand, a 52-year-old father of three from Plymouth, said his children ask him every night whether the presses will be running and he'll be going to work the next day. Admirand said he has a ready reply.

"Hope so."

Robert Gavin can be reached at Keith O'Brien can be reached at