Teamsters to protest what they call ‘outsourcing’ of union mailroom work at the Globe

Labor unrest continues at The Boston Globe as the Teamsters schedule a rally outside the Taunton printing plant for today at 4 p.m. to protest what they call a plan to outsource union mailroom work.

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Update: Don Seiffert of the Boston Business Journal reports that the Teamsters worry that the outsourcing of Globe mailroom jobs could be the first step toward eventually closing the Taunton plant. (They may be right.)

The Boston Globe makes an unconventional hire to run its opinion pages

Bina Venkataraman (via LinkedIn)

The Boston Globe’s next editorial-page editor, Bina Venkataraman, is an unconventional hire for some interesting reasons. She’s young (39), a person of color, an outsider (notwithstanding a brief stint at the Globe some years ago), an academic associated with MIT and Harvard, and a woman (as were her two predecessors, though it’s still unusual enough to be worth noting).

More than anything, though, her intellectual orientation is very different from the politics-and-powerbrokers style that is typical of editorial-page editors generally. She’s a science journalist who’s worked for The New York Times. She was also a senior adviser for climate-change innovation in the Obama administration and is the author of a new book, “The Optimist’s Telescope: Thinking Ahead in a Reckless Age.”

This is an enormously important hire. The editorial-page editor, like editor Brian McGrory, reports directly to publisher John Henry and managing director Linda Henry. I’d be very surprised if Linda Henry, in particular, was not a driving force in bringing Venkataraman back to the Globe.

Opinion journalism is everywhere these days, though much of it can’t really be considered journalism. In an interview with the Globe, Venkataraman showed that she gets it, saying, “There are a lot of opinions in our media environment right now, and a lot of people are able to offer their opinions, so it raises the bar for what we produce.”

Venkataraman’s predecessor, Ellen Clegg, who retired a little more than a year ago (disclosure: we are research partners on a project we’re not ready to announce), oversaw a vibrant redesign of the print pages, innovative and controversial projects on gun violence and a fake front page about a possible Trump presidency, and the expansion of digital-only content. After Clegg left, business columnist Shirley Leung filled in for a few months as interim editorial-page editor but didn’t really have time to leave her mark.

I would expect to see Venkataraman lead the Globe opinion pages in a more science-based direction, especially with regard to solutions-oriented journalism about climate change. I’d also like to see further expansion of digital-only content — two print pages with lots of white space really isn’t enough.

One big question is the future of the Ideas section, which will be part of Venkataraman’s portfolio. Earlier this year a sharp-eyed observer found a job ad suggesting that the Globe was going to morph it into more of a traditional Sunday week-in-review section — perhaps similar to the old Focus section that Ideas replaced, though it would need considerable updating.

Whether Ideas stays or goes, I think it needs to be made more relevant and rooted in the news. As it stands, many of the pieces strike me as too obscure. That may be a reflection of my own pedestrian tastes, although I don’t think I’m alone in that assessment. We’ll see what Venkataraman does.

Venkataraman begins in November. You can find out more about her in this online bio.

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The Guild’s response to Boston Globe management

Management’s statement.

And here is the NewsGuild’s response to Boston Globe management. I have redacted the names.

Dear members

You may have seen the company’s email regarding the status of our contraction negotiations.

Here’s what’s really been happening:

The Guild asked the company to start negotiations in Sept. 2018. Company officials did not make themselves available until December 6.

On that day the company, represented by Trish Dunn of Jones Day, presented us with a proposal that would, among many, many problematic things:

  1. Give the company the ability to outsource our jobs.
  2. Eliminate overtime for most members.
  3. Strip us of seniority in layoffs.
  4. Remove wage steps that guarantee annual pay increases for employees who otherwise would receive no raises unless their managers agreed to them.
  5. Take away our ability to defend ourselves against abuses.
  6. Take away our ability to fight back if the company denies an employee’s claim of harassment against a supervisor.
  7. Remove the clause in our current contract that would require any future owner from honoring the bargaining agreement.
  8. Weaken, if not cut entirely, language in our contract that calls on the Globe to recruit and promote women and minorities.
  9. Slash our severance.

What would we get in return? Two percent annual wage increases for two years and a 401k match increase of 3 percent that came with a huge draw-back.

The company proposed language that would allow it to reduce and even eliminate the match without having to negotiate with the Guild, which it must do under our current contract.

Yes, the company has proposed changes to healthcare that would reduce costs for some members. But according to the Guild’s calculations, the changes would significantly increase healthcare costs for many of our other members, a fact we have reminded the company of repeatedly at the table.

The company wanted us to agree to this lopsided deal within two months. Then, when their deadline passed, the Globe withdrew its previous proposal and replaced it with one that would still cut our rights under the current contract but without any increases to our wages or 401k match.

As for the ten-week family leave we now have, the company seems to have forgotten that it was Guild members who proposed this to management in 2017 and had to prod the company for 18 months before it would join the ranks of other news organizations and provide a decent family leave package. This finally happened at the negotiation table after the Guild agreed to give up some of its sick days.

Since December, the Guild has continued to meet and schedule new dates for negotiations at a steady pace. The Guild has made proposals and movement, while the company has barely budged off of any of the major concessions it has demanded. These actions are in large part why the Guild has been compelled to file a bad faith bargaining charge against the Globe for violating the National Labor Relations Act.

In its email, the company accused us of failing to schedule enough meetings and abruptly canceling on Tuesday.

This requires some context. The company was unable to meet for a three-week stretch in July because one person on its seven-member team was on vacation. And at the most recent negotiating meeting, the company did not make a single proposal, saying it had nothing for us, even though the company owed us responses on several proposals.

The Guild did cancel one bargaining session, the first such cancellation during eight months of negotiations, because the Guild’s president, Scott Steeves, a critical member of our bargaining team, had to fill in for his manager, who has recently left the company and  has yet to be replaced.

The Guild’s negotiating team did meet on its own this week to draft more proposals and responses that will be provided to the company at the next bargaining session in September. The company knows this.

We’ve asked the company repeatedly to explain how provisions in the current contract are an impediment — financial or otherwise — to the Globe’s sustainability and growth. We are repeatedly met with the same vague response: “We want to be more flexible and nimble.”

Well, that’s not good enough. It’s not good enough for employees who have tirelessly worked for this company even as it made monumental mistakes that threatened the health and future of the Globe. We were there for the company when its short-sighted decision to switch newspaper delivery vendors failed spectacularly and we were there for the company when the faulty printing machines it purchased led to delays in putting out the paper.

And we were there for the company even when our lives were threatened by a heavily armed man in California.

We’re not asking for much in return. But the company is demanding too much of people who have still not recovered from the drastic wage cuts the New York Times imposed in 2009.

We hope this helps set the record straight. We invite you to approach our team with questions or comments. Your feedback is critical to us.

And if you’d like to share your thoughts with the company’s negotiating team, here are their names and contact information:

In Solidarity,

The Guild Bargaining Committee

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Globe management’s latest statement on negotiations with the NewsGuild

The Guild’s response.

Boston Globe executives sent a memo of more than 1,300 words to the staff last Friday giving them their side of the ongoing negotiations between the paper and the NewsGuild, formerly known as the Newspaper Guild. A trusted source sent it along earlier this morning, and I’m posting the full text below.

The email comes several weeks after the Guild filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board claiming unfair labor practices “given the slow pace of contract negotiations and the insulting strong-arm tactics used by the company’s lawyers.” The union staged a brief walkout as well. Interestingly, management now claims that it’s the union that’s dragging its feet.

Given that the Globe claims to have achieved profitability at the end of 2018, it strikes me as fair to ask why staff members, who’ve sacrificed in order to improve the Globe’s bottom line, shouldn’t share in that success. In the memo, management replies that those profits will disappear if costs aren’t kept under control.

“As we communicated in our 2018 year-end note to staff,” the email says, “we ended the year in the black precisely because we aggressively targeted savings across many facets of our business and carefully managed expenses to stay ahead of the structural declines we continue to see in our industry, including continued circulation and revenue declines. Most of that expense reduction has come from our production side, and it is not sustainable to continue significant cuts to the operations and staff that print, assemble and distribute the Globe every day. Rather, we must continue our vigilance in looking for efficiencies and identifying areas of real and sustainable growth in our editorial and commercial departments as well, just as all media companies are doing in today’s world to remain viable and relevant.”

The full text of the memo follows:

Dear Colleagues,

In an effort to keep you apprised of our negotiations with the Guild, we want to share an update on the current status of the negotiations after 19 bargaining sessions over eight months.

As we noted back in January, we provided the Guild’s bargaining committee with two complete contract proposals for consideration on December 6, 2018 — our first bargaining session. The first was a traditional proposal without any economics embedded, but with important operational and cleanup changes. The other was called a conditional alternative proposal, which included the same important operational and cleanup changes, but also included guaranteed annual wage increases of 2% for everyone, a 3% increase in the current 2% 401k company match, and 10 weeks of paid parental leave. The alternative proposal would have added up to 5% annually to employees’ compensation through wage increases and an increased 401k match. This alternative proposal was contingent on getting the contract settled quickly in early 2019.

The proposed 2% annual wage increases in the alternative proposal were in line with, or exceeded, annual increases at other major newspaper companies. The proposed 5% 401k match exceeded the match that most other major newspaper companies offer. The Guild rejected both, ending the possibility of an early 2019 contract settlement. At that time, we made it clear to the Guild that the Globe would not be willing to make any wage and benefit increases later agreed upon retroactive to January 1.

The one exception to that was paid parental leave. In its December 2018 proposals, the Globe offered, and the Guild accepted, 10 weeks of paid parental leave on the same terms as non-represented employees. In January, the Globe moved ahead with providing all of its employees with up to 10 weeks of paid parental leave.

The Globe has also put forth proposals to:

  • Continue providing employees with generous paid time off for vacations, sick leave and holidays — up to 47 paid days off a year, in excess of most other large city newspaper companies. Those 47 days are in addition to paid bereavement leave or short-term disability benefits, which the Globe also provides.
  • Provide the same health insurance benefits that it provides to its managers and other non-union employees, with a progressive premium cost-sharing arrangement that would allow lower paid employees to pay just 17% of the premiums and higher paid employees to pay 25%-30% of the premiums. The Globe’s proposed premium shares are, in most instances, lower than what other major newspaper companies require employees to contribute to their premiums. And, they compare favorably to national averages where employees pay about 29% of the premiums for family coverage and 18% of the premiums for single coverage (according to the Kaiser Family Foundation Survey of Employer Health Benefits).

Together, the Globe and the Guild have made progress in negotiations. We achieved tentative agreements on four full articles within the contract — including union security and dues check off that protect the Guild — and more than fifty tentative agreements on subsections, including those relating to:

  • Grievance rights
  • Grievance procedures
  • Protection of grievants
  • Parental leave
  • Sick leave
  • Union security
  • Union leave
  • Anti-discrimination
  • Diversity commitment
  • Career development and training
  • Labor Management Committee
  • Joint Committee on Workplace Equity and Diversity
  • Work week
  • Vacation pay
  • Reduced work week policy
  • Part-time employees’ sick leave
  • Part-time employees’ vacation
  • Dangerous conditions policy

The Globe has consistently tried to schedule regular meetings to bargain the contract. On Tuesday, the Guild committee cancelled this week’s bargaining session — a session that had been on the books since June 6. Moreover, they have been refusing to book regular bargaining dates through the rest of the year and has made its committee available only one or two dates each month, even though the Globe’s negotiators have requested to meet weekly. In fact, in our August 9th session, the Guild’s chief negotiator told us at the table that the Guild committee has only one single date available in October and has “nothing else to offer” for bargaining in October. The result: the Guild committee is available just three days for on-the-record bargaining between now and the end of October, after cancelling this week’s session.

We all share the common big picture goal of strengthening our newsroom and company for the challenges and opportunities we face in an ever-changing media industry. In the past few years we have undertaken a lot of new initiatives, made big investments for the long term sustainability, and went through all of our costs to be as efficient and focused as possible on fulfilling our mission. This hard work and patient endurance of a lot of change by each of us worked, with the company having revenues exceed expenses for the first time in 2018 after many, many years of operating at a loss. This is a major step towards the long-term sustainability of this institution that we are all striving for. However, we are not fully there. This step was a result of cost control, not revenue growth. We are working on new revenue generation opportunities and we need to be creative, nimble, and efficient to get there. No small part of the work we need to do is to ensure our collective bargaining contracts are structured in a way that both allows us to operate in this kind of a nimble, flexible way and provides the kinds of protections and security that the Guild is seeking.

To that end, as we have told the Guild leadership, our primary goal has not changed: modernizing our labor contract to match the realities of our business and to more closely mirror the terms of our peers in the media industry so that we can remain operationally flexible and competitive. The changes sought by the company have been accepted by unions, including the Guild, in other newsrooms in Boston and across the country. In addition, we continue to seek in negotiations to eliminate provisions in the contract that impede our commitment to diversity as the use of seniority in layoffs does; to treat our professional staff as professionals by providing strong total compensation packages, classifying employees appropriately and in alignment with others in our industry; and to have policies in place that reflect our support of working parents at BGMP [Boston Globe Media Partners, the Globe’s owner of record]. We’ve made concrete proposals to address the Guild’s concerns about our proposal to eliminate overtime for creative professionals. Keeping in perspective that most unit employees work no overtime, our proposals provide for comp time and premium pay when employees are required to work on their days off and make a commitment to adjust the salaries of some staff members who are consistently called upon to work longer hours.

To achieve these goals, Globe management is committed to continuing to bargain in good faith to reach an agreement that will allow the company to remain focused on the important work with which our community and region have entrusted us. We have and will always respect all bargaining units across our organization as we continue to drive the kind of transformation required to be a dynamic media company with a sustainable future for all our employees.

As we communicated in our 2018 year-end note to staff, we ended the year in the black precisely because we aggressively targeted savings across many facets of our business and carefully managed expenses to stay ahead of the structural declines we continue to see in our industry, including continued circulation and revenue declines. Most of that expense reduction has come from our production side, and it is not sustainable to continue significant cuts to the operations and staff that print, assemble and distribute the Globe every day. Rather, we must continue our vigilance in looking for efficiencies and identifying areas of real and sustainable growth in our editorial and commercial departments as well, just as all media companies are doing in today’s world to remain viable and relevant.

We will continue to be transparent as we proceed, just as we will continue to push for the ability to be nimble and flexible as an organization given the pace of change in our industry. We look forward to continuing to discuss these important proposals with the Guild.

Thank you,

The Globe’s Bargaining Committee

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Newspaper Guild charges Boston Globe management with unfair labor practices

The increasingly ugly contract negotiations between the Boston Newspaper Guild and Boston Globe management have taken a turn for the worse. According to Don Seiffert of the Boston Business Journal, union employees were scheduled to stage a lunchtime walkout today.

Meanwhile, the Guild’s executive committee announced this morning that it would file an unfair labor practices complaint against management with the National Labor Relations Board. The executive committee’s statement is as follows:

Contract negotiations between the Boston Newspaper Guild and Boston Globe Media Partners show the company has no intention of backing down from its draconian proposals.

After eight months of bargaining, the company still expects us to give up overtime, seniority, pay scales, job descriptions, severance, protections from having our jobs outsourced, and more.

The union would also lose the right to defend its members against management abuses.

The company has also stated that any wage increases would not be retroactive. Their negotiators even turned down a simple union request to extend the time vacations could be rolled over even though it would cost the company nothing.

All this is being done under the guise of creating a more “flexible and nimble” company. What it will do is create a more rigid working atmosphere with fewer rights for workers.

Given the slow pace of contract negotiations and the insulting strong-arm tactics used by the company’s lawyers, the Guild has decided file an unfair labor practice charge against the Globe.

We will accept nothing but a fair contract.

Signed,
The Boston Newspaper Guild Executive Committee

The Guild represents about 300 employees. (Note: I’ve deleted a copy of the Guild’s complaint. It included several email addresses and phone numbers, and the content added nothing to the statement above.)

Earlier: Newspaper Guild and John Henry trade charges over Globe contract talks (Feb. 27)

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The Globe partners with ProPublica and public radio in its push into Rhode Island

The Boston Globe’s Rhode Island vertical today features an investigative report from ProPublica and The Public’s Radio (formerly Rhode Island Public Radio) on “whether failures in Rhode Island’s 911 system are costing lives.” ProPublica stories are licensed under Creative Commons, which means that anyone can republish them for free as long as they give credit. (It’s a little more complicated than that, but not much.)

But if you go to the ProPublica version of the story, you’ll see a note that it was “co-published” with the Globe, which suggests some sort of exclusive arrangement — or at least a head’s-up. (The Public’s Radio version is here.) I asked Globe editor Brian McGrory to explain. His emailed answer:

We’ve got a good relationship with ProPublica. Its editors were kind enough to see if we had interest in co-publishing this story, an important look at a flawed system. We were delighted to do it. and it’s getting significant readership. We’ll keep looking for other opportunities to collaborate in Rhode Island, adding to the work of the three excellent reporters that we have on the ground.

Smart move by the Globe, as it was an easy way to get access to an important investigative story as well as to give a boost to its Rhode Island initiative. There is nothing to stop The Providence Journal or other news organizations from publishing the story, but it doesn’t seem likely given that the Globe, ProPublica and The Public’s Radio have already run it.

I also asked McGrory if he could say what region the Globe might target next as part of what looks very much like an effort to expand its digital footprint in various underserved parts of New England. Not surprisingly, he demurred — and, of course, it’s possible that no decisions have been made.

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The Globe’s URL for its Rhode Island vertical offers some intriguing hints

Is taxonomy destiny? Less than two weeks after GateHouse Media’s Providence Journal laid off a reported six journalists, The Boston Globe has unveiled a new online vertical for its expanded Rhode Island coverage. And the URL is intriguing. Rather than going with bostonglobe.com/metro/rhode-island, the address is bostonglobe.com/metro/new-england/rhode-island (emphasis added).

The Globe’s move into Rhode Island has prompted speculation that other regions might be targeted as well. And, as it turns out, there is a New England vertical on the site, although it doesn’t seem to be listed anywhere. You have to type it in. Who knew?

The great irony would be if the Globe made a move into Worcester, where GateHouse just laid off about six journalists at the daily Telegram & Gazette and the weekly Worcester Magazine. In 2014 then-new Globe owner John Henry sold the T&G to a Florida chain after reportedly assuring staff members that he would keep the paper if he couldn’t find a local buyer. Henry later told me he only remembered promising that he wouldn’t sell to GateHouse — which, of course, ended up with the paper anyway.

In any case, it seems that the Globe has built a system that would easily accommodate future expansion.

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Some perspective on the Globe’s digital landmark

Outside the Globe’s Taunton printing plant. Photo (cc) 2018 by Dan Kennedy.

I’m going to be talking with Barbara Howard on WGBH Radio (89.7 FM) this afternoon about the news that The Boston Globe now has more paid digital than print subscribers — a significant landmark that has nevertheless led to some head-scratching among those who are wondering what it means.

The news was reported earlier this week by Don Seiffert of the Boston Business Journal. Joshua Benton took note of the moment at the Nieman Lab:

The Globe has been lucky to have an attractive market with higher-than-average education and income; it’s been smart to keep cuts to the newsroom smaller than what its peers have. And it’s also still a good newspaper — something that’s harder to say about other metros that have been cut to the marrow.

Here’s some perspective. A lot of us thought that the Globe was the first large regional daily cross this particular line. (Our national newspapers, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, have been selling more papers online than in print for quite some time.) That’s not quite true. As I was researching another story, I discovered that the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette beat the Globe to it. But there are some unusual aspects to the case of the ADG, which I’ll be writing about next week.

I think it’s safe to say that the head-scratching comes about from a suspicion that the Globe’s supposed digital success is really more a sign of print failure. And there’s no question that the Globe’s print operation is on life support. But the digital accomplishment is real.

Take a look at Seiffert’s chart. In June 2016, the Globe had 67,429 digital-only subscribers and 135,231 print subscribers, for a total of 202,660. By March of this year, the numbers were 112,241 digital and 98,978 print for a total of 211,219. That’s an overall increase of 8,559 paid subscribers. And though digital doesn’t bring in as much as print, it’s still real money — especially with the Globe’s unusually high digital rate of $30 a month once initial discounts have worn off.

Not only has the Globe under John Henry’s ownership maintained its quality better than most major metros, but its user experience, if not great, is at least good enough. It’s also in the midst of transitioning to The Washington Post’s Arc content management system, and though there appear to be a few bugs to work out, we paying customers should expect to see an improving digital product in the months ahead.

But no, print is not doing well. If you want to go back to the Globe’s heyday in the 1980s early 1990s, the paper at one time sold more than 500,000 papers on weekdays and more than 800,000 on Sundays. As recently as the fourth quarter of 2015, weekday print circulation was still 143,348 and 255,735 on Sundays. Now, in addition to that 98,978 figure for weekdays, Sunday is just 172,067. (Figures from the Alliance for Audited Media.)

What happened is no different from what’s happening anywhere, except that there were some special circumstances with the Globe. First, in early 2016, the Globe changed home delivery vendors, with disastrous results. The paper was able to recover fairly quickly by switching back to the original vendor. But then came the opening of the new, not-ready-for-prime-time Taunton printing plant in mid-2017, and it was months before printing and distribution returned more or less to normal.

Unreliable delivery and the high cost of a print subscription ($1,000 a year) no doubt helped drive a lot of customers to digital-only. In the long run, that’s going to benefit the Globe, especially given how cheap it is to add digital subscribers. But since print readers remain more valuable than digital subscribers, moving toward an all-digital future more quickly than is absolutely necessary results in money left on the table.

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John Henry and the Everett casino

Photo (cc) 2019 by Dan Kennedy

There is a ridiculous quantity of media news to sift through this morning. I just want to make a brief comment about The Boston Globe’s report that publisher-owner John Henry twice tried to buy the Everett casino.

Newspaper owners can do what they like. The Globe already has the challenge of covering Henry’s Red Sox, and The Washington Post must negotiate owner Jeff Bezos’ ownership of Amazon. Patrick Soon-Shiong, the billionaire surgeon who owns the Los Angeles Times, is an entrepreneur who’s been involved in his share of controversies. Corporate chain owners have their own business entanglements.

Still, casinos are a miserable, contentious business. We should all be glad that Henry stayed out of it — and I wish he’d realized even before making an inquiry that it would put his journalists in a difficult position.

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The subscription lines cross at The Boston Globe

This is a pretty big deal. Don Seiffert of the Boston Business Journal reports that The Boston Globe now has more digital than weekday print subscribers — the first regional paper in the country to claim that distinction. (I’m among the people he quotes.)

Print subscribers are still more valuable. Not only do they pay more, but print ads are worth much more than commodity digital advertising. But if the Globe can get to the point over the next few years at which it can dump print, it will save a ton of money that it now spends on what is essentially a 19th-century manufacturing and distribution operation.

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