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Big backlash to the Times Co.'s fuzzy math

Earlier today, I argued that the combination of the Times Co.'s late-breaking math adjustment--coupled with the Times Co.'s apparent refusal to extend its negotiating deadline for the paper's unions--suggested bad faith on the part of the company.

According to a Globe staffer, that's now the prevailing interpretation among the paper's journalists, who until now have been relatively amenable to the Times Co.'s request for major union sacrifices.

"[Globe publisher Steve] Ainsley lost the newsroom last night," this staffer says. "People are furious.... Overnight, people have been emailing like crazy about this. Management has done the impossible: they've reunited the Boston Newspaper Guild."

"Now several hundred reporters are questioning the Times Co.'s math on everything--on whether $85 million dollars [the amount the Globe will allegedly lose this year] is the real number," the staffer adds. "It's outrageous. I don't think we now have the basis of trust that it requires to make an agreement. You don't discover genuine accounting errors at 11 p.m. on Wednesday night."

On a related note, here's an email currently circulating in the Globe newsroom--apparently from reporter/newly minted Guild bigwig Beth Daley--that gives an account of how the mistake was revealed and what its implications are. Note that, according to the email, 5 percent pay cuts on the part of union employees won't be enough to get to the $10 million in total sacrifices the Guild has been asked to make:


You have probably heard the unbelievable headline by now but below is a short recap. THERE IS A UNION MEMBERSHIP MEETING ON SATURDAY AT 4 p.m. AT BOSTON TEACHERS HALL. If an agreement is hammered out today, we'll discuss that, if neg. are still going, that will also be discussed. Please pass this note on to everyone you can in newsroom, I didn't reach everyone.

Negotiators for management now say the dollar figures they gave to the union to guide us in making $10 million in contract concessions were mistakenly inflated and did not take into account about 80 employees who have already left the Guild/Globe since January 1. Management says they overstated the value of various cuts by a total of $4.5 million and we will ave to dig considerably deeper into our paychecks and benefits to "save our jobs." Last night at the Guild's governing board, chief union number cruncher Kathie Dalton said she could not come up with $10 million in cuts with just a 5% pay reduction, based on the revised numbers. And the New York Times still wants our concessions by May 1. It will be extraordinarily painful. The timing is, to be kind, suspicious.

To recap: They originally gave the union a menu of potential cuts on April -- reductions in wages, pensions, health care, vacation time and 401K contributions that managers said added up to $14 million. All the Guild had to do, they said, was pick $10 million. Then, they set a hard deadline of May 1 to reach a tentative agreement with the Globe and negotiations began, using the company's own numbers as the basis. Finally, after 11 p.m. on Wednesday, April 29, near the end of a long day of bargaining, management told the union negotiators that they needed to amend the cost-saving figures to account for employees who have left since January 1. For example, savings from a freeze on pension contributions will be only $3.229 million instead of the original $4 million. After other concessions had been similarly downsized, the menu of proposed cuts had been trimmed to slightly less than $10 million.

In other words, the cuts that totaled $14 million magically is now total only $10 million.

  • Byron Wooten said:

    A friend of mine, who use to be Controller for several metro papers, said to me when moving from a 50,000 circ paper to a 500,000 circ paper, "They're bigger numbers, but they are still numbers."  A $4.5 million error out of $85 million should not be a trust breaker.  Compare it to $45.00 out of $850.  Would you scream, "How did that happen?"  

    May 1, 2009 2:46 PM
  • JT said:

    But $4.5 out of $14 is horrendous.

    May 1, 2009 3:03 PM
  • eyeball said:

    The problem here is very simple: How can the globe union trust globe management if management is this incompetent with its critical numbers in the midst of a crisis? Further, how can the Times Co. in nyc trust the Globe management in Boston to "get it right the next time"? Blunders like this expose the entire underlying problem -- managerial incompetence up and down the line is killing the globe. Ainsley should resign over this, at a minimum. This is an astonishing stinkbomb.  

    May 1, 2009 3:07 PM
  • Ryan said:

    Byron, that example is incredibly dishonest. $45 out of $850 is a much smaller percentage than $4.5 out of 14 million. That's roughly 1/3 of the entire number. $45 out of $850 is roughly 5%. 33.3333% > 5%. That argument is commonly referred to as a "straw man."

    But thanks for playing.

    May 1, 2009 8:33 PM
  • Tom said:

    Stick to your guns!  Don't give them (management) a dime!  Let them shut the paper down.  They can't fool you!  And when you're on the street or the web trying to get saps to pay you for what everyman do anyway (share information), you'll show them!  Good luck with that... Saps!

    May 1, 2009 10:06 PM

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