Globe in the Balance: The Holdout
If it were up to him, Dan Totten would still be locked in that Weymouth basement, hammering away. It took a heated argument with Steeves that night, in fact, to convince him to fold his hand and bring the Times Company’s offer to the union members.
Back in the conference room in the guild’s Quincy office, he’s still seething. "So the New York Times’ position is, Accept this, or take a 23 percent wage cut. Which, by the way, went from 22 and a quarter percent to 23 percent," he says. "That was a very hostile act, just mean-spirited, in and of itself."
While Totten blames the onerous terms on Times Company vindictiveness, some of his own members wonder if much of the fault doesn’t rest with Totten himself, as architect of a cutthroat strategy. In this take, his stubbornness and guns-blazing style drove the Times Company toward draconian measures. "I think with different leadership we could have had a better deal," says one Globe reporter. "The tenor of the negotiations were unnecessarily ugly, and I think that some of the bad blood and kind of rote hostility is counterproductive."
That’s impossible to know, but it’s hard to believe things could have turned out much worse for the guild. After all, in the end the Times Company got everything it wanted.
Well, almost everything. One consequence of the proposal was that it was so loathed by guild members that even those who resent Totten shifted their anger toward the Times Company. If the New Yorkers had hoped to break the guild, that ambition failed. Instead, pulled together in an unlikely moment of unity, some members are talking of voting down the proposal and sending Totten once more back into the negotiation room—even despite the Times Company’s promise to enact the 23 percent wage cut if they do. It’s possible, after all, that such a warning is merely another paper tiger, much like the threat to close the Globe itself. It’s possible that the Times Company, anxious to be done with the guild, could sweeten its deal, that Totten could even convince it to pay more than $33,000 a head to get rid of those lifetime job guarantees. Of course, it’s also possible such a gamble could backfire. This time, the Times Company could make good on the 23 percent wage cut, while those severance packages shrink or disappear.
The magnitude of the June 8 vote is not lost on Totten. Nothing less than the future of the Boston Globe will be at stake. "This," he says of his members, "is the most important vote they will ever cast in their lives."