Globe in the Balance: The Holdout
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.