As I write, members of the Boston Newspaper Guild are voting for their future in a 12-hour marathon. Will they roll the dice in the hopes the New York Times Co. (NYSE: NYT) is bluffing about imposing a 23 percent pay cut and possibly shutting the paper? Or will they take the still unpleasant, but less risky path and vote to cut their own pay? Others think they see cluesthe NYT, the flagship paper of the company demanding $10 million in concessions from the one union out of a $20 million total, reports little support for passage; the Boston Globe quotes a 28-year-old staffer planning to vote for the 10 percent wage cut and other changes despite a very vocal opposition complaining about inequality between management cuts and those being demanded of the Guild.
The Guild is the last of the Globe unions to vote, following the drivers' approval of $2.5 million in cuts Sunday and the much smaller machinists union's rejection of some concessions. The company told the Globe that wouldn't affect the $20 million bottom line.
Guild says plenty without a yes or no: The latest message from Guild Executive Director Daniel Totten professes to take no sides in terms of how to votethe Guild is not endorsing the deal, just taking it to a votebut he leaves no doubt about his feelings towards the company and he stresses how some other companies are making management take equal or greater cuts. NYTCo got its concessions by being a "bully" and the problems have all been caused by "wretched" management decisions. It's a very have-it-both-ways memo.
What would 'no' mean?: Nothing good. NYTCo already has promised a 23 percent pay cut at the least, with the closure threat still looming. The Guild likely would appeal the unilateral slashing via the National Labor Relations Board, a far from instant solution that would leave the pay cut in place indefinitely. A ruling against the company could cost it millions in back wages and fines.
Lasting results: Either way, the results from today's vote, which ends at 8 p.m. eastern with results due late evening, will be lasting. Will they ripple across the industry? Lee Enterprises (NYSE: LEE) wants a 23 percent cut at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on top of unpaid furloughs and layoffs. Other companies are seeking or imposing heavy cuts plus layoffs. Owners know employees have few options these daysand staffers know that disrupting operations at a serious cost to the company is a boomerang to be deployed with great care. In a sense, the Guild vote is only about one paper. In another, it's about them all.
By Staci D. Kramer