Globe in the Balance: The Holdout

For Dan Totten, bellicose boss of the biggest labor group, the battle is far from over.

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.”

If the reporters were quick to question Totten, it was because the union president had earned a reputation among his members for being less than forthcoming with information. After the Times Company had made its initial request for cuts last June, company executives, including chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr., traveled to Boston for a town hall meeting. During that meeting, a mailroom employee asked about a supposed 10 percent wage drop he’d heard about. Reporters were left slack-jawed. Despite knowing about the requested cuts for a week, Totten had never mentioned them to his members.

Indeed, Totten has long rankled guild members with his lack of interest in communicating much at all. “The union doesn’t seem capable of consistently reaching all of its own members by e-mail,” says one reporter. Notes another, “I had asked at least four times to get on the union listserv and hadn’t. And I think that’s the case with a number of reporters.”

Six days after he learned of the closure threat, Totten finally convened the union’s membership on the evening of Wednesday, April 8. He used the occasion to dig deeper into a hard-line stance he’d already staked out in comments to the media. The lifetime job guarantees, he declared, would not be given up under any circumstance.

With that, Totten cracked open an already festering split in the union. On one side were the many reporters eager to toss the job guarantees overboard if it meant saving the paper. What sense did it make to guard those guarantees, they wondered, if doing so caused the Globe to go out of business? On the other side, guild members who sell advertising—more fearful of having their positions outsourced or rendered obsolete by technology—tend to consider the protections as sacred contract provisions. “It was a beautiful issue to divide us,” says one writer.

With Totten’s position established, fretful reporters began to wonder if the union boss had their best interests at heart. Slack, for one, created a newsroom-wide e-mail list to ensure all were kept apprised of union activities. When Totten sent out a survey to poll members on bargaining priorities, she instructed her colleagues to copy their responses to environment reporter Beth Daley, a newsroom delegate to the guild, just to prevent anything from getting lost in the shuffle. Meanwhile, religion reporter Michael Paulson launched an invitation-only Facebook group to create a forum for staffers to discuss the issues at hand; it quickly grew to 120 members.

Whether in spaces virtual or real, Totten received few favorable reviews from the Globe‘s journalists. Many worried his stubbornness would jeopardize the paper, especially since he had put his foot down on the job guarantees before even considering the survey’s results.

“Sometimes [Totten] seems in over his head,” says one reporter, who, like several others, spoke on condition of anonymity. “His voice mail is always full. He often doesn’t respond to calls or e-mails. And he has a bad habit of insisting that opinions that are different from his are based on ignorance rather than actual disagreement.”

Another puts it more succinctly: “He’s not been effective. I don’t know if that’s because he’s stupid, inept, or just has different goals than the membership.”


  • 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.