Globe in the Balance: The Holdout
For Dan Totten, bellicose boss of the biggest labor group, the battle is far from over.
Though Totten admits “it would be hard for some of my colleagues to believe,” he originally had hoped to become a reporter when he came to the Globe. In 1980, as a student at Boston State College, he applied for an editorial internship, only to be bumped into advertising. The business hooked him, and he left college to continue on at the newspaper (later finishing his degree and picking up an M.B.A. from Anna Maria College in Paxton). Over a 25-year career, he worked a variety of sales jobs, most recently selling ads for the travel section.
Totten first got active in the union in 2002, and it was a natural fit. His father was a member of the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association for more than 35 years, his sister was a union representative for the Boston school system, and his grandmother had been a steward for the hotel and telephone workers union “back in a time,” Totten says, “when it wasn’t very popular or easy for a woman to hold such a position.” When guild president Steve Richards stepped down in 2005, citing the strain of the thankless job on his family life, Totten decided to run for the presidency; since nobody else did, he won easily.
Totten ran uncontested again in 2007. Despite drawing the ire of his newsroom colleagues, he’s found plenty of backers who consider him perfect for the job. “I think Dan’s tough,” says Richards. “He’s strong in his opinions and he’s not a bashful, retiring type. He’s going to fight hard for what he believes in.”
For years, newsroom staffers have largely opted out of union affairs. Though they make up 40 percent of the membership, they have just one delegate on the eight-member executive committee. Reporters offer various explanations for their lack of involvement, which seem to boil down to having neither the time nor the interest. (Tellingly, one Globe scribe said all he knew of the union is “they take $20 out of my check.”) After finally tuning in to how their guild president was conducting himself, they found little to like. Many Globe journalists, trained to see nuance in the topics they cover, are philosophically uneasy with Totten’s old-school, line-in-the-sand posture. “Bellicose union sentiment and anticorporate ranting don’t sit well with us,” says one. “This is the 21st century, and these guys are talking like it’s Samuel Gompers Day.”
To those already in line behind Totten, the newsroom’s sudden activism and demands to be heard were off-putting. “Editorial, they don’t really get their hands dirty with this kind of stuff,” says one ad salesman. “[They say,] ‘Gee, are we fully represented?’ But when the elections were taking place, nobody was interested.”
Guild vice president Scott Steeves goes further. New to the negotiating process, the newsroom members failed to see the job guarantees as the valuable bargaining chips they are, he says. There was a reason the union’s playbook wasn’t e-mailed to members. “It’s posturing a lot of the time, and the membership doesn’t understand that. And because they’re news people, because they’re reporters, they want every little detail and every little fact,” Steeves says. “And it hurts negotiations if we give our game plan away to them because then, next thing you know, you see it in the Herald, it’s online, it’s all over the place.
“We were always willing to discuss everything [with the Times Company], but we didn’t want to say that to start off negotiations…I absolutely think [the newsroom complaints] weakened our position because the company knew that there was a big group of non-job-guaranteed people who were pressuring the negotiating team to give up the job guarantees without knowing how the process works.”
What Steeves and Totten needed, then, was their membership’s blind faith—a trust that they were getting the job done behind closed doors. Considering the newsroom’s unfamiliarity with the union, and the union’s inability to communicate with its members, it’s little wonder they did not receive it. Totten says he understands he made some mistakes and is working to correct them. A more unified guild, he believes, will give him a better bargaining position. But should the negotiations restart, his tenor is one thing that won’t change. Being of the old breed, he’s a puncher, not a conciliator. “I am who I am,” he says. “I don’t think a lighter tone would have accomplished anything. I think you need to press on behalf of the people who might not understand strategies.”