Both the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald today report on the ouster of Boston Newspaper Guild president Dan Totten, whose leadership during the union’s months-long standoff with the Globe’s owner, the New York Times Co., was widely criticized.
Each story raises more questions than it answers, starting with the use of the word “guilty” to describe the internal ruling against Totten on Wednesday. That’s a pretty loaded term, but neither account gives any indication whether it’s one that the union specifically uses, or if it’s just a less-than-legally-precise description of what happened.
As for the charges against Totten, let’s take a look at the specifics:
- He was found to have signed the name of another union official to his own paycheck.
- He was found to have improperly used his union credit card to buy $254 worth of personal items.
- He was found not to have produced receipts in a timely manner.
Are any of these accusations the sort of thing that law enforcement would find interesting? Perhaps the second item, although — not to downplay the seriousness of the allegation — it probably wouldn’t be worth the time given how little money was at stake. But it would seem to me that if Totten is not under any sort of criminal investigation, then we should tread carefully before labeling him a union crook.
As for the two other items, you could argue whether Totten should be punished for signing someone else’s name so that he could cash his own paycheck, but it was, after all, his own paycheck. Not producing receipts in a timely manner? You’ve got to be kidding.
I want to make it clear that I’m not sitting in judgment of anyone. Perhaps Totten really was, uh, guilty of serious malfeasance. My only point is that we don’t know.
I’d like to see someone dig into this and find out whether we are truly talking about malfeasance, or if instead Totten was sacrificed because his members are unhappy with the way he dealt with the Times Co.
The Guild-Times Co. standoff was the biggest local media story of the year. Totten’s fall is an important element of that.
Update: One question has been answered. According to a copy of an e-mail from the Guild that has been forwarded to Media Nation, it is indeed the Guild itself that used the term “guilty.” Here’s the full text:
Dear Boston Newspaper Guild Member,
A jury of members of the Boston Newspaper Guild today found President Daniel Totten guilty of charges that he improperly signed a paycheck and ignored directives to turn over expense receipts in a timely manner. The jury voted to expel Mr. Totten from the union, and also ordered him to pay a fine of $254. The jury heard several hours of testimony from Union officers and office staff. Mr. Totten declined to participate in the trial process. The five members of the jury were chosen by random selection. Mr. Totten has the right to appeal the verdict.
Acting President, The Boston Newspaper Guild
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