Globe in the Balance: The Holdout
For Dan Totten, bellicose boss of the biggest labor group, the battle is far from over.
Despite feeling that dissenting members had weakened their hand, Totten and Steeves strode into the negotiations on April 14 committed to playing the guarantees for all they were worth. Across the table sat Gregory Thornton, the Globe‘s labor czar; Bernard Plum, the Times Company lawyer sent up from New York; and three other Globe higher-ups. During past labor negotiations, Thornton had been management’s point man. But as union leaders settled into the basement conference room of the Sacred Heart school in Weymouth, where a friendly labor group rents space, they soon realized that Plum would be the Times Company’s lead player. This time, New York, not Boston, was calling the shots.
A labor specialist from the high-powered firm Proskauer Rose, Plum showed little emotion at the bargaining table. “He’s got a straightforward, no-nonsense style,” Steeves says. “Here it is, this is what it is. No massaging it at all. It’s the bottom line, that’s what we need, we’re gonna get it, period.” Determined to remain a single, faceless entity throughout the negotiations, Plum and his cohorts took pains to avoid individual media attention. They entered and exited the talks through a back door, and shooed away photographers when they were spotted.
Totten presented a contrast in style. “Dan’s more passionate,” says Steeves. “He’s always saying, you know, ‘This is wrong, you gotta stand up for people, you can’t just destroy people’s lives like this, people’s retirement, people’s 401(k). How are people supposed to send their kids to school and pay their mortgage?'”
As the Times Company’s May 1 deadline approached, the pace of negotiations intensified. The closer it got, the more the threat to shutter the paper seemed like just bluster, a leverage tactic. When the date came and went without a settlement, it became clear that Totten had called the Times Company’s bluff. “It was calculated; it was part of our strategy,” Totten says now. From the beginning, he was of the belief that “it doesn’t benefit the Sulzbergers to close [the paper].” Of course, that hadn’t stopped Totten from using the threat to galvanize all the public support he could, launching a campaign—which included radio ads and an April 24 “Save the Globe” rally at Faneuil Hall—to vilify the New York overlords.
Totten may have gotten his opponents to blink when it came to shutting
down the paper, but the Times Company had another trump card—one that it still holds today. If Plum and his bosses in New York concluded that the talks had broken down, they could declare an impasse, a legal step that would allow the Times Company to impose its final contract offer, which they indicated would include a devastating 23 percent wage cut. Such a deep cut would easily get the Times Company to its $10 million target—while of course irreparably demoralizing its Globe employees in the process. But because the management negotiators were keeping such a good poker face, Totten had no way of knowing whether that fact much mattered to the Times Company.
With the 23 percent cut now in play, the talks dragged late into the night of May 5. The only thing the parties could agree on, it appeared, was Chinese food: At 9:30 a box of it (containing separate bags for union and management) was hauled in. The two sides remained holed up in the negotiating room until 12:45 a.m., when Totten began conducting occasional sidebars in the hallway. For most of these, he leaned coolly against the wall. But at 3 a.m., when he stepped into the hall with Thornton, his demeanor had changed. Totten paced back and forth. Swinging out his left fist, he banged the wall. He paced some more. The two were out of earshot, but it was apparent that an unwelcome conclusion was close at hand.
Thirty minutes later, Totten trudged up a small staircase to greet reporters waiting for him on a landing. He looked exhausted, the news cameras’ lights revealing glazed, watery eyes. Taking no questions and divulging few details, he explained that he had a proposal to put before his members. There would be no impasse—not tonight, anyway. People assumed a deal had been struck and the Globe saved. They were wrong.