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.”


  • 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.