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

Welcome, Romenesko readers. There’s a lot more where this came from here.

Guild treasurer files charges against Totten

Boston Newspaper Guild treasurer Patrice Sneyd has filed charges against Guild president Dan Totten, according to Boston Globe reporter Robert Gavin. Totten is accused of misappropriating money or property, violating the union’s constitution and disobeying orders. The Guild is the largest union at the Globe.

Totten, out on leave, has previously denied any improprieties. Sneyd’s action could lead to an internal trial. Though it strikes me as odd that Totten could be accused of mishandling funds without law enforcement somehow becoming involved, perhaps we’ll find out soon exactly what has been going on. (Via Romenesko.)

Earlier coverage.

Guild treasurer addresses Totten charges

The following e-mail has been sent to the members of the Boston Newspaper Guild, the largest union at the Boston Globe. A copy was obtained by Media Nation earlier today.

September 25, 2009

Dear Colleague,

I understand that many questions have arisen from yesterday’s e-mail from the Executive Committee regarding alleged financial impropriety by BNG President Daniel Totten.

As treasurer, I have a fiduciary responsibility, which I take very seriously. I intend to fulfill that responsibility to the fullest extent.  I assure you that the Executive Committee is asserting due diligence on this matter. Once made aware of the situation, the appropriate steps were taken to ensure the safety of your union funds.

The second order of business was to notify you. It would have been preferable to notify you, and file the charges simultaneously. But time constraints did not allow that to happen. We took the position that notification was our next priority.

We are guided in this process by the constitution of the CWA [the Communications Workers of America], our parent union. The by-laws require that charges be filed within 60 days from the time an offense becomes known.  I intend to draft the charges and file them early next week with our Recording Secretary Kathy McCabe, as required by the by-laws. We are well within the 60 day time frame. After they are filed, members will be notified of the details of the charges.

I know that there may be more questions as this process moves forward. We are working with the guidance of legal counsel from both the CWA and the BNG. We will keep you updated as more information becomes available.

In closing, I ask for your patience.

In Unity,

Patrice Sneyd,
Treasurer BNG

What we still don’t know about Dan Totten

The Globe and the Herald today report that Boston Newspaper Guild president Dan Totten is suspected of signing someone else’s name as a countersignature on his paycheck. So here are a few follow-up questions:

  • Is this something he did regularly?
  • Did other union officials know it?
  • Have other union officials done the same?
  • Was this money to which he wasn’t entitled? (Surely he was entitled to his paycheck.)

To be sure, Totten, whose union is the Globe’s largest, shouldn’t have signed someone else’s name on a check, and it kind of sounds like he’s admitted that, according to the reports. But we still don’t know whether we’re talking about ill intent or just a seat-of-the-pants management style.

Meltdown at the Boston Newspaper Guild? (II)

More on the charges against Boston Newspaper Guild president Dan Totten, whose union is the Boston Globe’s largest, from the Boston Herald and the Globe.

I would be very cautious about drawing any conclusions based on the sketchy information that’s come out so far. This could be serious. Or it could be factional warfare.

Much more to come, I’m sure.

Meltdown at the Boston Newspaper Guild?

I will confess that I have been following contretemps within the Boston Newspaper Guild from afar, at best. But from the looks of an e-mail sent to Guild members this afternoon and obtained by the Phoenix’s Adam Reilly, it appears that a total meltdown is under way.

Dan Totten, the controversial president who led the union in talks with the Boston Globe’s corporate owner, the New York Times Co., during the spring and summer, has had his financial authority suspended, and an audit is being conducted, according to the e-mail from the Guild’s executive board.

This comes on top of a recall effort led by some Globe staffers who have accused Totten of inadequate communication — which another way of saying that the $10 million in concessions approved during the summer cut health benefits by considerably more than union members say they’d been led to believe.