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.


  • 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.