Monday, May 04, 2009

Pulling Boston Globe back from the brink

A simple compromise on lifetime job guarantees is the right answer to breaking the impasse between the Boston Globe and its largest union, the Boston Newspaper Guild.

The compromise would be for the union to abandon the archaic concept of preserving lifetime jobs for its most senior members – and for the Globe to agree to fund an enriched severance payment to any “lifetime” employee who is laid off by the company now or in the future.

Then, both sides can get on with the decidedly unpleasant business of implementing some $10 million in cuts that will come at the expense of the 700 editorial, advertising and business employees represented by the Guild. The company today said it had come to terms on expense reductions with the six other unions beside the Guild that repreent Globe employees.

Difficult as cost cuts may be, they are a necessary step to try to staunch losses that management has said would be $85 million this year. In light of the size of the stated losses, the givebacks requested from the union are moderate, as this sort of thing goes these days.

By all accounts, including this one in the Globe, the Guild has agreed to the $10 million in cuts demanded by management.

But the negotiations evidently have foundered on management’s demand that the union abandon the lifetime job guarantees that were given to some 700 Guild employees working at the company as of 1992, according to this backgrounder in the Globe. Approximately 170 “lifetime” workers remain on the Globe’s payroll today.

The idea of lifetime jobs seems hopelessly quaint in this era of Darwinian globalization, continuous technological disruption and profound economic uncertainty.

It also was born of arrogance on the part of publishers who thought their market supremacy would endure forever and arrogance on the part of unions who once wielded sufficient power to intimidate management into agreeing to this perfectly preposterous proposition.

Apart from federal judges and tinhorn dictators, no one has the luxury of a job for life. And no one should.

At a time management and labor ought to be working closely together to help restore the economic health of the Boston Globe, frustration and fatigue have overtaken common sense and evidently escalated negotiations from a merely unpleasant exercise to out-and-out rancorous one.

If the collective goal is to help the Globe to carry on in as good a shape as possible, then both sides need to bend on the issue of lifetime jobs and get on with the serious business that lies ahead.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tenured college professors also have cushy jobs for life. As do Bay Area members of Congress.

12:21 PM  
Blogger Herbert Barry Woodrose said...

I know this isn't a popular opinion, but I'm against going after working people. Tough to hear maybe as an ex-CEO but I just think the CEO is the place to start making cuts and changes. One job there doesn't = one reporter job in terms of wealth creation and productivity, but is = 10 or 20 reporting jobs in terms of salary.

Also, I watched a really long Ben Franklin documentary from PBS this last weekend. Wasn't really in great depth though, the 'historians' tend to think they are just spinning a really great yarn and there's a lack of real scholarly coverage. That being said, Franklin was a fascinating person. The early years setting type, the later years and the political dirty tricks and machinations... fascinating stuff.

6:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wouldn't call it "arrogance" but optimism from the days newspapers ruled... like true love, most of us thought this would go on forever.
That's not such a bad thing. We just have to re-invent.
It's almost funny on Craigslist when you look at writer jobs, most "employers" listed there want this skill for free. With the appearance of books on the internet, authors and writers must be the most disrespected profession on the planet right now.

10:25 PM  
Blogger Banjo Jones said...

even "tinhorn dictators" aren't guaranteed jobs for life as some end up getting shot, hung or beheaded.

by comparison, an enhanced buyout package for the Guild oldtimers looks tempting.

10:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't forget, though, that some of these lifetime jobs are in areas that are no longer relevant to the business of the Globe.

It's the equivalent of guaranteed jobs in the mailroom in this digital age. Can they be retrained? Sure. But do they have incentive to be retrained? No... not as long as they have lifetime job guarantees.

6:06 AM  
Blogger Sycamorebaby said...

There is a process TNYT is to follow to change the job guarantees that is part of the guild's contract.. It calls for a 3rd party arbitrator who would have confidential access to NYT financial information and work toward resolution. I, too, think job guarantees are an outmoded concept -- but Guild workders at TBG have disproportionately contributed to the layoffs over the past year and the union is right to ask that the process be honored...particulalry since it offered substantial givebacks from its membership in it s $10,007,000 offer. If job guarantees were to be TNYT's sticking point, it should have said so from the get go and begin the 3rd party process.

7:59 AM  

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