Boston - Members of The Boston Globe's largest union has held a tense meeting to debate a proposal for deep wage and benefit cuts that the newspaper's parent company, The New York Times, said were necessary to keep the 137-year-old daily from closing.
The proposal, hammered out during contentious negotiations with management, calls for an 8.3% wage cut and a five-day unpaid furlough. Other cutbacks include a freeze on pension contributions for many employees and the elimination of lifetime job guarantees for about 190 Guild members.
"There seem to be a lot of upset members of the crowd tonight and rightly so," said Daniel Totten, president of the Boston Newspaper Guild, following the approximately 90-minute meeting. "What has been put before these members is really unconscionable."
Totten said a vote on the proposal was likely in early June. The Times is seeking $10m in concessions from the Guild, which represents about 700 editorial, business and advertising employees at the Globe.
Meanwhile, New Jersey's largest newspaper said it will reduce employee salaries and no longer cover the entire cost of employee health insurance. Publisher George Arwady said the moves were made necessary by a continuing decline in advertising revenues at The Star-Ledger of Newark, which reported the announcement on its Web site on Thursday.
The salary reductions will be done on a sliding scale, starting July 1. The first $40 000 of an employee's salary will be reduced 5%, the next $40 000 by 10%. Employees also will have to pay 25% of their health care plan costs.
Earlier this year, the newspaper said it would stop contributing to its employee pension plan and ordered staffers to take 10-day unpaid furloughs this year.
In California, the San Diego Union-Tribune is cutting 192 jobs in another round of lay-offs affecting all departments at the newspaper.
The Union-Tribune said on Thursday the lay-offs amount to about 18% of its staff, which will be reduced to about 850 workers after the cuts become effective on July 6.
The lay-offs come three days after Platinum Equity, a Beverly Hills private equity firm, completed its acquisition of the newspaper from Copley Press. The newspaper did not disclose the number of cuts in each department, including in the newsroom.
The Boston Globe proposal stipulates that employees who lose their lifetime job guarantee would receive a $33 000 payment, in addition to severance, if they were laid off. The proposal would also bar any lay-offs of workers with lifetime guarantees until January 10, unless the newspaper ceased publication.
Union leaders have not recommended for or against ratification of the proposal and Totten said he anticipated holding smaller meetings with members over the coming weeks before the vote. Asked if he believed the Times would shutter the newspaper if there was no deal, he said he did not have a "crystal ball," but that the union was taking the threat seriously.
Last month, the Times threatened to shut down the Globe unless its unions agreed to cut $20m in annual costs, with the Guild asked to shoulder half of the concessions.
Like many newspapers across the country, the Globe has struggled as readers have migrated to the Internet, advertising revenue has declined drastically and circulation has fallen. The Globe had $50m in operating losses in 2008 and had been projected to lose $85m this year.
Several employees have said they are concerned that even if they approve the proposal for wage and benefit cuts, the newspaper will still face large lay-offs.