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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Could peace be at hand?

History tells us Henry Kissinger was a bit premature when he announced "peace is at hand" during the talks to end the Vietnam War. So it may be daring to make similar predictions following a marathon session between the Boston Newspaper Guild and its management overlords.

But a lot has happened in the week since Guild members narrowly voted down a company proposal: management imposed a 23 percent wage cut; potential buyers emerged; and those buyers were being told (by the Times media writer no less) they should bid anywhere from $250 million to asking the Times to pay them $25 million to take it off their hands.

And of course the ever helpful Howie Carr and snarky Herald headline writers were offering barbs to drive the price down even more.

Yet it was within the pages of the Herald where the shape of what may be transpiring at the table emerged. According to reporter Scott Allen, who is not part of the formal talks:
“We can work more, we can take fewer holidays, we can have less vacation time, we can give up some of our sick days. There are a lot of ways that we can help the company to reduce costs and get more productivity that is not a direct vacuuming out of our paycheck.”
There is a new urgency in resolving this mess -- the mere existence of potential buyers, one even named Taylor -- must have Young Arthur Sulzberger scratching his head at his good fortune. After messing up the franchise and playing his own hand badly with less-than good faith bargaining, a light at the end of the tunnel can only be welcomed with unbridled glee.

His negotiators have to be careful that any new agreement doesn't upset the balance with the other unions that accepted offers without the visible drama that surrounded the Guild talks.

But he can count on a newly motivated Guild team who did an almost equally poor job at the table and thought they could call the Times' bluff and avoid a shutdown or a 23 percent cut. The initial package looks pretty good right now -- and maybe with just a modicum of tinkering it could be presented by Guild boss Dan Totten as the victory he promised.

Saving face is important on all sides. Maybe as important as saving the Globe itself.

But lest anyone get too happy should that come about (we know Howie won't be in that group) it is important to recall the words of John Morton, one of the experts tapped by the Times for his analysis:
[A]ny Globe employees still employed after the deal goes through will recall the contract they have just rejected as paradise compared with what a new owner will impose in cost-cutting."

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