Newspaper Guild and John Henry trade charges over Globe contract talks

Contract negotiations between The Boston Globe and the Boston Newspaper Guild are becoming increasingly tense, with the Guild accusing management of union-busting and Globe publisher John Henry denying it.

Earlier this week the Guild posted an open letter to John Henry and his wife, Linda Pizzuti Henry, who is the paper’s managing director. The key takeaway:

Now, we are in the midst of negotiations led by a mercenary law firm that is trying to bully your employees into a contract that essentially asks them to give up their rights as union members. These tactics are threatening to destroy the long-standing, constructive and respectful relationship between the Guild and management. This approach to collective bargaining has also stoked feelings of deep anger and even betrayal among employees. It is doomed to fail.

That was followed by John Henry’s sending an email to the Boston Business Journal in response to the Guild’s letter. The highlight:

Globe management has set a very simple but very important goal of strengthening our newsroom for the challenges of a long-term future in local journalism. The Globe and the guild need to engage in a collaborative effort designed to ensure what both sides need in order to have a vibrant workplace and serve the needs of our community.

This has been ugly right from the start, and it doesn’t look like it’s getting any better.

Earlier: “Newspaper Guild blasts Boston Globe management over contract woes” (Dec. 14).

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Globe president, in year-end message, says digital subs are approaching 110,000

A source just sent along this end-of-the-year message from Vinay Mehra, the president and chief financial officer of Boston Globe Media Partners. It follows publisher John Henry’s statement earlier this week that the Globe is now profitable and is likely to remain in the black next year as well.

The main takeaways here are that the Globe, having passed the crucial 100,000 mark for paid digital subscriptions several months ago, is now closing in on 110,000. Globe executives have said that if they can hit 200,000 then the paper may be able to achieve long-term sustainability. Also of interest: The Globe is taking part in a three-month exercise with Harvard Business School “to define our business strategy.”

What’s missing: Any mention of the Globe’s contentious negotiations with the Boston Newspaper Guild, including management’s decision to bring in what the Guild has described as a “union-busting” law firm. One hopes that Mehra and the Henrys understand that the people who produce what he describes as “the many successes our journalism racked up this year” should be treated fairly.

The full text of Mehra’s message follows.

Dear Colleagues,

As we head into the holiday season, on behalf of [managing partner] Linda [Henry] and myself, I want to take a moment to share with you a few highlights of what we have achieved this year as well as an outline what we hope to achieve in 2019.

Our success in 2018 was no accident. It was a tough year that required a lot of work and I am pleased to say our efforts began to pay off. We started, of course, with powerful journalism across all our brands — The Boston Globe, STAT and Boston.com. On top of that, we found areas of real growth, while we aggressively targeted savings across all facets of our business and carefully managed expenses to stay ahead of the structural declines we are all seeing in our industry.  For the first time in a long time, we are ending the year in black, and to remain there we must continue our vigilance in looking for efficiencies.

But financial results are just one measure of the many successes our journalism racked up this year. There are way too many to list here, so I’ll mention just a few:

  • Spotlight was a Pulitzer finalist for its groundbreaking series in December [2017]  on race issues in Boston that inspired a region-wide discussion that has no precedent
  • Our coverage of the State Police overtime fraud investigations, the Columbia gas explosions in the Merrimack Valley, the investigative pieces on Massachusetts secret courts and the TSA’s Quiet Skies program drove accountability and change
  • The stories in STAT about IBM-Watson’s troubled health business led to a major leadership change at the company

We also extended the reach of our journalism by expanding into new platforms:

  • The Aaron Hernandez Spotlight series in the Globe resulted in a podcast with over 4 million downloads, a trip to number 1 on the Apple charts, and considerable interest from Hollywood
  • Last Seen, a true crime podcast examining the most valuable and confounding art heist in history from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, hit over 3.4 million downloads and was in the top 10 on iTunes
  • Season one of the Love Letters podcast launched earlier this year when Meredith took on the hardest question she gets: How do I get over it?  Leveraging its success, season two will launch in early 2019

As incomparably talented as our journalists are, they don’t do it alone. Peel back the curtain, and what’s revealed is you … our employees across all departments of BGMP [Boston Globe Media Partners]. Day in and day out, your coordinated efforts — leveraging your relationships, expertise, passion and creativity are what have made this institution a leader in an industry that is starting to find its footing.

For growth on the digital side to be sustainable, we must remain focused, bold, and daring, and in 2018, we had no shortages of examples:

  • We continued our digital growth, ending the year with close to 110,000 digital-only subscribers for the Boston Globe — more digital subscribers than almost any other major metropolitan news organization
  • We invested in a new digital content management system, Arc, and launched a new mobile app for the Boston Globe, another step in our digital transformation
  • STAT doubled down on coverage of life sciences, pharma and biotech, resulting in record revenue and subscriber growth
  • We launched a new section on cannabis dedicated to covering and facilitating conversations around the politics, business, use and impact of cannabis in the Northeast
  • Our events brought the community together to talk about important issues such as race, the future of work, the future of democracy, and the midterm elections

Impressive commercial results and remarkable engagement of our readers to our stories are not the only things that drive us. Being a leader in the news industry comes with responsibility. We take that role seriously and demonstrated it in August, when our editorial board led a coordinated effort that resulted in 450 newsrooms across the country joining us to defend the freedom of the press against harmful rhetoric labeling the press as “the enemy of the people.”

As important as it is to drive these conversations in the community, it’s important for us as an organization to reflect on how we can live up to what we shed a light on. One example was the Race Series, which prompted a degree of self-reflection.  Leadership on diversity and inclusion starts at the top, so we have made an intentional effort to ensure our executive team represents a broad range of backgrounds. We will continue to move through our practices in recruiting, talent assessment, and measuring the leadership of this organization against a few core guiding principles, one of which is related to creating an environment that nurtures inclusion, and compensation goals will be tied to this important measure.

It’s not lost on me that there are many questions about the future of our business and our strategy. This past month, a cross-functional team of more than 30 leaders across all disciplines of our organization met with me and a team from Harvard Business School to begin a 3-month exercise to define our business strategy. We all left very encouraged and I will have more to share as we move forward.

As we reflect on a transformative and eventful year, the reality is this: when the business had been experiencing double-digit declines we didn’t dig a hole and hide, we invested — in new business models, new technologies, new talent. We didn’t lose faith. We continued to produce quality journalism, launch new products, and provide opportunities to convene our community around important issues.

All of us know that people who choose to spend their lives in the news business are special, they’re unique, and they are undeniably passionate about their work.  This isn’t simply a job, it’s a mission — a mission motivated by our love of informing people. And that’s precisely what makes me so proud to work alongside each and every one of you.

We wish you and your loved ones a happy, restful and safe holiday and I look forward to seeing you in 2019.

Vinay

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Amid union strife, John Henry now says The Boston Globe is profitable

Republished at WGBHNews.org.

Here’s an unexpected development: The Boston Globe, which has been losing money more often than not for years, is now turning a profit, according to publisher and owner John Henry.

“The Globe may have turned the corner finally due to management, increasingly relevant journalism, continuing strategic investment and by becoming much more efficient in all areas,” Henry said Tuesday night in response to an email query. He added: “I don’t know how long it has been … since the Globe had a profitable year but we will this year and probably next as well. As our digital growth continues the sustainability of a vibrant Boston Globe is coming into view. It’s been a long time coming.”

What prompted my email was buzz coming out of the Globe newsroom that management had claimed the paper was running in the black. It struck me as unlikely, but Henry has now confirmed it, although he did not respond to my request for some actual numbers.

The good news comes at a moment when Henry and his management team have taken an aggressive stance in contract negotiations with the Boston Newspaper Guild, the union that represents the Globe’s editorial employees and many on the business side as well. The Guild recently issued a statement denouncing management for hiring the “union-busting” law firm Jones Day, described by the Columbia Journalism Review as “notorious for aggressive anti-union tactics that journalists and union leaders say have helped downgrade media union contracts and carve employee benefits to the bone.”

I asked Henry if he was concerned that hardball tactics with the union could result in a loss of goodwill with his employees and the public. As you’ll see below, he did not answer directly. But it doesn’t seem like a good look to crack down on the union at a time when its members’ sacrifices have helped Henry balance the books. That said, negotiations often get ugly. That doesn’t mean the talks can’t be resolved on terms both sides can live with.

Henry, a billionaire financier who is also the principal owner of the Red Sox, has long lamented the Globe’s declining fortunes and the dismal state of the newspaper industry in the five years since he bought the paper from the New York Times Co. When I interviewed Henry in early 2016 for my book “The Return of the Moguls,” he said he expected to lose money both that year and the following year. “You look at the Globe — we have about $300 million a year in income and we can’t make money,” he said. “The cost of making money is high.” (Earlier this year the Boston Business Journal estimated that revenues for 2018 would range from $225 million to $250 million.)

This past July, Henry told me in an email interview for WGBH News that the losses were continuing. “The Globe cannot ever seem to meet budgets — on either the revenue side or the expense side and I am not going to continue that,” he said. “This has always been about sustainability rather than sizable, endless, annual losses. That is frustrating and due to a combination of mismanagement and a tough industry.”

Since that time, management, headed by president and chief financial officer Vinay Mehra, has cut spending on both the news and business sides. It seems to have worked, although news coverage and customer service have taken a hit. Throughout the news business, of course, revenues continue to decline. But there is reason for some optimism with the Globe. Several months ago it passed the 100,000 mark for digital subscribers, an important milestone. Globe officials have said the paper could approach financial viability if they can reach 200,000. Needless to say, that’s a lofty goal.

The full text of Henry’s email follows.

The Globe may have turned the corner finally due to management, increasingly relevant journalism, continuing strategic investment and by becoming much more efficient in all areas.

There has also been a focus on getting costs and practices closer to industry standards of major newspapers. This is something the Globe was never able to do. And this is what I believe management is continuing to do in its negotiations with the guild presently.

We want the strongest possible newsroom in the future. Much as sports teams are dependent on the talent of those who take the field every day, the Globe depends on a talented newsroom and editorial page that hopefully has the tools they need to be successful. So ultimately I believe management and the guild will find common ground in a very challenging environment for newspapers where your very survival is dependent on doing the right things day-to-day.

Both have the same overriding objectives — to provide our community with vital, serious journalism.

I don’t know how long it has been, Dan, since the Globe had a profitable year but we will this year and probably next as well. As our digital growth continues the sustainability of a vibrant Boston Globe is coming into view. It’s been a long time coming.

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Globe union files grievance over non-union status of Stat

The Boston Newspaper Guild, the union that represents Boston Globe employees in the newsroom, advertising, and other areas, has filed a grievance with management over the status of Stat as a non-union shop.

Stat, a standalone website covering health and life sciences, was launched last fall by Boston Globe Media Partners. The Boston Business Journal recently reported on some of the union rumblings emanating from 135 Morrissey Boulevard.

I obtained a copy of the union’s message to members a little while ago:

Dear members,

We are writing to let you know that the Boston Newspaper Guild has filed a grievance challenging STAT’s status as a new initiative.

We are concerned about the loss of Guild work and we are trying to bring these jobs into the Guild.

We will keep you informed when there are updates to share.

Yours in solidarity,
BNG Executive Committee

Here’s the union letter asking Globe staffers to deliver paper

Here is the email that went out earlier today to Boston Globe employees from Scott Steeves, president of the Boston Newspaper Guild. I have removed contact information.

Dear Members –

We are in crisis mode. I’m sure you’ve all heard about the papers not getting delivered this past week. We are looking for people to work tonight delivering papers in the Newton area. Anyone from the editorial side who is able to work tonight delivering papers, please email Beth Healy. Anyone from the business side who is able to work tonight delivering papers, please contact Scott Steeves.

We will be meeting at 15 Riverdale Ave. in Newton at midnight. Globe employees will need to be two per car. Please have proof of driver’s license and registration. You will get a route with a list of households with delivery instructions. Make sure you have a flashlight and a GPS.

Appreciate everybody who can help out.  Thanks in advance.

Scott

More from Craig Douglas of the Boston Business Journal.

Boston Newspaper Guild rips Times Co. bonuses

The following e-mail, dated Thursday, was sent to members of the Boston Newspaper Guild, the largest union at the Boston Globe. Media Nation obtained a copy of the e-mail from a confidential, reliable source. Click here for background. (As you will see if you click on the link to Editor & Publisher below, the Guild was not entirely accurate in describing the compensation packages of Times Co. chairman Arthur Sulzberger and president Janet Robinson.)

Hi folks,

As you may have heard, the NY Times recently awarded its top two executives more than $10 million in stocks and bonuses for their performance in 2009, a year that for most of us in the Boston Newspaper Guild was a disaster. Two people, Janet Robinson and Arthur Sulzberger, received stocks and stock options equal to the pay and benefit cuts that they demanded from our whole union under threat of closing the Boston Globe for good. We want the New York Times leadership to know that we’re angry and disgusted by their greed and hypocrisy.

Please take a look at the attached letter of protest as well as the link to news coverage of their big pay day. If you agree that it’s wrong and you want to send a message, please email us that you are willing to have your name attached to the letter.

We face contract negotiations with the New York Times company later this year and we want them to know well in advance that, if they can afford to pay executives so much, we expect similar generosity.

http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1004074880

Dear Arthur and Janet,

We were astonished to learn that the two of you received more than $10 million in stock awards and options in 2009. During the year for which you were so richly rewarded, the 600 members of the Boston Newspaper Guild gave back almost the same amount in pay and benefit reductions — $10 million, to be exact — after you threatened to close our newspaper, lay off hundreds of people, and strip Massachusetts of its largest newspaper.

Previously, New York Times officials told us that we needed to accept pay cuts and unpaid days off along with higher health costs, the elimination of our retirement programs and other benefit reductions in order to save the Boston Globe. But the recent SEC filings make it look like almost all of our sacrifices went to pay the two of you. For most of us up here at your newspaper in Boston, 2009 was financially disastrous, as Guild members were forced to move to cheaper housing, take second jobs, scrap vacations and make other drastic measures to offset more than a 15 percent reduction in our pay and benefits. We made these sacrifices under duress, yes, but also because we understood that the Globe faced real financial challenges in an economic downturn and a dramatically changing marketplace. We did it because we care deeply about our newspaper, its mission, and the critical role it serves in our region and our nation. And we did it with an expectation that our sacrifices would be shared across the company.

The two of you gave us the impression that you understood all that when you visited the Globe last winter. You even personally thanked us for giving up so much for the greater good. Now we learn that, all the while, you were in line for astronomical bonuses over and above your million dollar salaries. Ms. Robinson’s compensation rose 32 percent last year; Mr. Sulzberger’s overall pay more than doubled. While you’ve stopped contributing to our modest retirement plans, the value of your own pensions has increased sharply.

Needless to say, we are insulted, but we also feel betrayed that you would reap such profits at a time when so many of your employees have lost so much.

Our nation’s history is filled with corporate executives who profited handily by cutting workers’ salaries and eliminating jobs. But few of those figures helmed newspapers that have done eloquent, important work in revealing and condemning such practices. For this reason, we are hopeful — as both shareholders and employees — that you will govern this company with morality and a basic sense of fairness.

We have appealed to you once before this year about the Times’ seemingly excessive largesse to its executives in such troubled times. The Times Co. handed out more than $500,000 in cash bonuses to the Boston Globe’s publisher [Steven Ainsley] on his retirement — just as the employees he left behind were forced to schedule eight unpaid days off. We hope that, this time, you will give us the courtesy of a reply and an explanation.

Now that the Times has shown it can afford to lavish so much on a few top executives, we expect our pay and benefit cuts will be restored in the coming months. We look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,
Members of the Boston Newspaper Guild

Federal audit criticizes Totten’s leadership

Dan Totten

Former Boston Newspaper Guild president Dan Totten signed another union official’s name on his paycheck in order to circumvent a dispute involving unauthorized expenses Totten had rung up on his union credit card, according to an audit conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The results of the audit were laid out in a Nov. 17 letter from the Employment Standards Administration of the Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) in the Department of Labor’s Boston office. The letter was sent to Patrice Sneyd, Guild treasurer. The Guild is the largest union at the Boston Globe, and was involved in a months-long dispute last year with the Globe’s corporate owner, the New York Times Co., over a management demand for $10 million in union givebacks.

The Guild removed Totten on Dec. 2 after allegations of improprieties arose. (See previous posts.) Totten has appealed his removal and maintained he did nothing wrong. The Department of Labor letter is a public document, but it was missing from the agency’s Web site until recently. (Read the entire letter.)

Although the letter lays out numerous deficiencies in Totten’s administration of union business, one of the more intriguing unanswered questions has involved allegations that Totten signed someone else’s name on his paycheck — an issue in the Guild’s decision to remove him. The letter offers an explanation.

According to the audit, Totten had charged $1,441 in expenses to his credit card without permission. After making some restitution, the letter says, Totten still owed $254. Here’s what happened next, according to the letter, in a section titled “Falsification of Union Records”:

It was further disclosed that BNG President Daniel Totten forged another officer’s name to Totten’s paycheck that was being withheld until receipts (or reimbursements) were turned into the union office for charges made to the union’s credit card.

The union should be aware that these activities constitute fiduciary violations…. While this matter will not be pursued further at this time, OLMS recommends that President Totten reimburse the union for the remaining outstanding unauthorized expenditures and that stricter internal checks and balances are put into place to avoid this occuring in the future.

The letter also details more than $5,000 in meals for union officers at places like The Fours, Siros Restaurant, Legal Seafood, and Joe’s American Bar and Grill, with no explanation given as to what if any union business was conducted. The letter further states that willful failure to maintain records properly can result in a fine of $100,000, a one-year prison term or both.

When the Guild removed Totten, some (including me) speculated that it might be retribution for the manner in which Totten botched negotiations with the New York Times Co.

The Department of Labor letter, though, demonstrates that irregularities under Totten’s leadership may have been significant.

I invite responses, especially from Totten, who, again, maintains he did nothing wrong.

Sean Murphy responds to Totten

Boston Globe reporter Sean Murphy, who was the prosecutor in the Boston Newspaper Guild’s ouster of president — now former president — Dan Totten, spoke with me a little while ago. Murphy is highly critical of remarks Totten made in an e-mail reported yesterday by the Boston Herald’s Jessica Heslam. Says Murphy:

All I want to say is that this was a prosecution, not a persecution. Mr. Totten was not the victim of a political vendetta. He was a victim of his own bad conduct. I was asked to be the prosecutor and agreed to do so. It was done by the book. There was no personal animosity. Any suggestion otherwise is false. Any suggestion that I was biased is false. I was well known to be a “no” vote on both contract proposals, which was in line with the position of Mr. Totten. I did not participate in any recall efforts. I was known to eschew recall.

Murphy adds that, though he did attend a meeting to discuss Totten’s possible removal, Totten “knows full well I expressed great skepticism.”

I asked Murphy whether there has been any talk about whether the accusations made against Totten by the union could result in the involvement of law enforcement. Murphy’s response: “I have not broached that subject nor has anybody in my presence.”

Earlier coverage.

More on Dan Totten’s ouster

It turns out the Boston Newspaper Guild did indeed use the term “guilty” in an e-mail to its members about the removal of president Dan Totten; see the update at the end of my earlier item.

And Adam Reilly of the Phoenix speaks with Boston Globe staff reporter Maria Cramer, who says Totten was ousted strictly because of his misdeeds — and not out of any sense that he’d bungled the Guild’s dealings with the New York Times Co. Reilly writes:

“I find that suggestion” — i.e., that Totten’s trial represented a form of payback — “to be insulting in the least,” Cramer says. “We spent nearly four hours looking at the evidence, which was lengthy and very detailed…. It’s a duty that we took extremely seriously. We understood that the result would probably meet with this kind of criticism. But at the same time, I definitely feel we made the right decision — I have no doubt about that — and that it was free of politics.”

And there the matter rests. For now.

Still more: Boston Herald reporter Jessica Heslam has an e-mail exchange between Totten and his accusers. Looks to me like this is the key quote from Totten:

BNG / TNG / CWA has designated a member to act as “prosecutor” in this matter who attended a newsroom meeting this past September, 2009 with the purpose of assisting in the distribution and signing of a petition for my removal from office as BNG president. His actions were based on newsroom members opinion of the ratified contract of July, 2009, and their disagreement with its provisions. The jury selected for the trial contains several members as panelists who also attended the September, 2009 newsroom meeting and were signatories to a removal petition. None of these individuals is impartial; in fact, they are seeking to have me removed from office, and using this process as a vehicle to that end. This is in direct contradiction to the letter and spirit of the by-laws, and I will not be party to it.

Why was Dan Totten ousted?

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.

Sincerely,

Scott Steeves
Acting President, The Boston Newspaper Guild

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