The Holdout

All but one of the Globe‘s unions have agreed to swallow big cuts to keep the paper’s New York overlords from killing it off. But for Dan Totten, bellicose boss of the biggest labor group, the battle is far from over. Is he the defender the Globe needs? Or an overmatched hack who’ll speed its demise? We’re all about to find out.

boston globe cuts

Photograph by Jonathan Beller

Dan Totten could be forgiven for slouching, for looking like a beaten man. But instead he leans forward in his conference room chair at the Boston Newspaper Guild’s Quincy office, crisply attired in a pink shirt and navy blazer, his silver hair neatly parted, as if fresh from the shower. Tall and wide, with round cheeks and ample jowls, he cuts the figure of an old-time union boss. His dropped r’s, courtesy of his Mattapan boyhood, add to the effect.

“What’s been put before us is completely unacceptable,” he says. “And I think people are ready, willing, and able to do something on that matter.”

For more than a month, Totten had been battling the Boston Globe‘s owner, the New York Times Company, over a plan to cut $10 million from his union’s contract and thereby stave off its threat to close down the broadsheet (the Times Company had demanded another $10 million from the Globe‘s 12 smaller unions). The night before, he laid out the disappointing fruit of his efforts for his 700 members. They could vote, he explained, to approve a contract offer from the Times Company—an offer that would slash their pay by 10 percent, jack up their healthcare costs, ratchet down the company’s retirement contributions, and eliminate lifetime job guarantees for the roughly 190 who had them (a group that includes Totten himself, and for which the offer provides a $33,000 payout to anyone who is axed). Or, when they take up the proposal on June 8, the members could shoot it down, sending Totten into a second round of bargaining with the hope that he might come back with something better. And the very justified fear that he might come back with something much worse.

On this morning, that risk doesn’t faze the union boss, who badly wants another shot at negotiating with the Times Company. “If we could get back to the table, I hope they could see that it was just an unacceptable proposal,” he says. “I know they can do better, they should do better, they have an obligation to do better.” The bravado is stunning for a man who’s spent recent weeks being pummeled by both the Times Company and factions of his own union. But Totten, an ad salesman by trade and a labor stalwart by blood, does not lack for confidence—a quality that could prove either a great virtue or a huge liability for the guild. Should his members vote to send him back into the ring with management, he could very well emerge as the hard-spined hero who had the gall to stare down the Gray Lady. Of course, if he fails, he’ll be branded the foolhardy union hack who hastened the end of the Boston Globe as we know it.


To most observers, the April threat from the Times Company seemed to come out of nowhere. In fact, it’d been set in motion a decade and a half earlier.

In 1993, while the Times Company was hammering out a deal to buy the Globe from the Taylor family for $1.1 billion, Totten’s predecessors were busy reworking their guild’s employment contract, ultimately bargaining for a clause guaranteeing that the 700 or so union employees hired before January 1992 would never be laid off. Over time, those job guarantees have been erroneously chalked up as an act of benevolence on the part of the Taylors, with the recipients inscribed in a sort of Book of Life. But in reality they represented a hard-fought victory. And almost as soon as they were won, they were forgotten. In those halcyon days of the early 1990s, when newspapers were still cash cows, employees had little fear of losing their jobs.

Of course, things changed quickly. Over the past decade, revenue and circulation have plummeted, and by the end of last year, with the economy imploding, reports surfaced that the Globe was losing a jaw-dropping $1 million per week. Its parent company was bleeding cash as well. In December the Times Company mortgaged its new headquarters in New York, and six weeks later borrowed millions at a murderously high interest rate from a Mexican telecom mogul to forestall bankruptcy.

Last June the Times Company approached the Globe unions to open cost-cutting talks, seeking up to a 10 percent wage cut. Responding for his guild, Totten rebuffed the request, offering instead some “generalized cost savings” proposals, which he now declines to detail. “They used the word ‘collaboration,'” he says. “It’s hollow…they don’t hear recommendations and proposals that we put forth.” Or at any rate, they weren’t interested. (Times Company officials had little comment for this article other than to say, “All along, our desire has been to work with our unions.”) The discussions about across-the-board cuts fizzled. This past March, with an eye toward trimming 50 jobs, the Times Company implemented its fifth round of buyouts at the Globe since 2001 and the first editorial layoffs in the paper’s history. The latest downsizing brought a newsroom staff that numbered 520 eight years ago down to 340. More than 700 jobs have been axed throughout the rest of the building.

Suddenly, the lifetime job guarantees were more valuable than ever—not just for the union members who had them, but also for the Times Company.

Desperate for cash and increasingly anxious to unburden itself of a newspaper projected to lose $85 million this year, the Times Company knew it had to eliminate those antiquated promises: They constrained immediate cost-saving efforts, as well as any more radical makeover a prospective buyer might want to pursue.

Once so seemingly benign, the guarantees were now something to declare war over. Unable to get Totten to voluntarily pursue negotiations, the Times Company pulled out a new, drastic tactic to bring him to the bargaining table.


On that fateful Friday afternoon in April when word of the Times Company’s death threat first emerged, Globe reporter Scott Allen was sitting in the office of the Spotlight Team, the paper’s vaunted investigative unit. Rumors had rumbled through the newsroom all day, but “the idea that they would set a date to stop publishing after 137 years, that seemed far-fetched,” Allen says.

Early in the afternoon an officemate called up on his computer the lineup for the next day’s front page, revealing a story marked simply “Globe.” Ordinarily reporters can view the headlines and first paragraphs of all stories slated for A1, but for sensitive pieces—ones that editors worry might leak out of the building—the entries are more vague. As a Spotlight Team member, Allen was as aware of this protocol as anyone, considering his stories often receive that kind of lineup treatment.

By about 5 p.m., the “Globe” lineup entry was filled in, allowing Spotlight editor Thomas Farragher to see the lead. He printed it out and handed copies to Allen and a few other reporters. “We just sat there with our mouths wide open,” Allen says.

Along with the 12 other union heads, Totten had been given notice by the Times Company the previous day, and had committed to keeping the threat under wraps. But the newsroom didn’t know that, and anyway, now that word had leaked, there seemed no excuse for his inaction. As more reporters caught wind of the shocking news, they grew alarmed that they hadn’t yet heard anything from Totten. Frustrated, City Hall reporter Donovan Slack circulated a petition demanding an immediate meeting of the guild. Blasting out an e-mail to her editorial colleagues, she wrote that she was “starting to wonder about our union leadership and whether we are going in the right direction.”


  • Patty

    We cannot give into the "bullying" of the New York Times. I say we fight to the end.

  • Michael

    Trust your union. Do not risk your fate in the hands of those who have already proven they can ruin a great newspaper.

  • Anonymous

    It appears to me that Dan has only had the best interest at heart for each and every union member. Shame on you reporters!How dare you sit back and never have any active involvement in the past. But when the going gets tough just blame Dan! How about suporting him !Just maybe you should of listened long ago. I say FIGHT!Support the union have some —–!

  • Linda

    Why is it that Dan Totten, who is standing for the rights of every labor guld member is the target of criticism by the media? This article also plays a role in such biased criticism of Dan Totten. It is not Dan Totten who wants to take away everything from the Globe guild members,it is the New York Times Corporation. Perhaps some of the union members need to look at the full picture and stand together for the benefit of all and not use Dan as a scapegoat for their unplaced frustration with their own company.An anti-bullying commentator

  • Linda

    Dan Totten is far from a hack. He is intelligent, along with being well read and well spoken.How dare you put in your article a reference to him being called stupid by an anonymous labor guild member.This is an example of using the Union President as a scapegoat for what's happening at the Globe. If the union member who made this outrageous comment ever looked at the letters Dan sent out to support the Globe,he would have realized that a stupid person could not put together such a well written letters in support of keeping the Globe alive. It's also ignorant and unethical to call someone stupid and I think that you should have left this nasty comment out of your story.

  • Maya

    Anonymous wrote: "Perhaps some of the union members need to look at the full picture and stand together for the benefit of all…" Exactly. So… is a 23 percent paycut to the benefit of all? How about closing the paper? Just because NYT didn't close the Globe, doesn't mean they won't — the unions met the minimum requirements for avoiding closure by submitting a proposal, and the NYT has been very, very clear about what will happen if the proposal doesn't go through. The current proposal is hard to swallow, yes, but it's not out of line with what other newspapers have had to deal with (and, indeed, is far more reasonable that what other journalists have experienced in non-Union shops). Yes, Totten is intelligent, and has worked hard, but he and his supporters don’t seem willing to “look at the full picture” either. The full picture is that the Globe, like every single other newspaper out there, needs to become leaner and more flexible in order to stay viable. Anyone who doesn'

  • Maya

    … Yes, Totten is intelligent, and has worked hard, but he and his supporters don’t seem willing to “look at the full picture” either. The full picture is that the Globe, like every single other newspaper out there, needs to become leaner and more flexible in order to stay viable. Anyone who doesn't understand that either doesn't work in a newsroom or has a lifetime job guarantee — or both.

  • Susan

    The NYT's final offer – whcih included none of teh suggestions for cost-cutting made by the union – is not remotely more reasonably than what other newspapers have imposed. The paycut is over 10 percent, there are drmatic cuts in health are that will reduce the paycheck further, and all future retirement benefits – pension, 401K, 401A – will be gone. That's after no COLA for three years, and it's far more than the NYT writers took, and far more than management took. Other papers have done smaller paycuts or benefits cuts, but nothing like the Times is demanding. That's why many union members are balking — it's not because of lifetime job guarantees. There are reprters at the apper who ahve been shot at, shelled, worked much unpaid overtime, given up weekends and holidays, won major awards — all to be treated like fast food employees. If the contract goes down, that will be why.

  • kathie

    I think what some are not seeing is that the NYT although is good at journalism is BAD at business. The Globe being one of their biggest examples, however not their only. Building a massive new home, selling off floors & then leasing them back, a 14% loan from the Mexican, increasing the Salabergers dividends during an economic decline, and many many other examples of bad business decisions. The reality is the current proposed cut nor the 23% threat means the paper will stay open. Their business track record actually indicates that even this "plan" to save the Globe may not work. With that being said, if there is no guarantee of salvage, should people try & keep as much as they can for as long as they can? Shouldn't people expect that pain get distributed evenly amoung not only the rank & file but all the way up pole? Wouldn't that be a more hopeful and trusted effort on the part of the NYT? It seems that the possible salvage is being left to the rank & file while those above keep as m

  • Anonymous

    the sad thing about this whole situation is that more people in Boston now realize that The Boston Globe is a New york owned newspaper.I'm sure younger reader didn't know that for fact.Also The Globe should be delivering the news,not be the "news"

  • Tom

    I have just been recently laid off from a newspaper. Unions are not to blame, Corporate leaders are, they slash budgets and expect same product to be put out by less people, the paper suffers, so more get laid off and it continues, If newspapers are to survive the big-wigs need to feel the cuts and let workers do what they know how.

  • Tom

    This article appears to me to be very well researched and represents an honest attempt to get the whole story. But, Mr. Swartz and his article fail because of the loaded nature of the descriptive language used throughout. Dan Totten is president of the BNG. He is not a “union boss.” That term is loaded and gives the reader a clear look at the reporter’s prejudice. This kind of writing used to be standard in the coverage of union vs. labor disputes. I would have hoped that Boston Magazine would be above this sort of thing. An objective reporter should ask why it is that the union “demands” and the employer “offers.” It has been repeated often recently, that words do matter. It is regrettable that what could have been a defining article on this dispute is so profoundly flawed.

  • Thom

    Dan Totten has only the best interests of his members in mind. Does anyone believe that the NYT Co. wasn't trying to create a schism when it made this announcement? I've dealt with NYT in negotiations at another of their papers and it's always a "My way or the highway" approach. To counter this you need someone exactly like Dan Totten. Dan isn't the entire union, there's an executive board and decisions are made as a group, as votes are democratically rendered. Maybe communications at this time could have been better, but greater involvement by all members is also imperative. Keep doing what you're doing Dan, plenty of people are still behind you.