BOSTON — A new contract agreement between The Boston Globe and its largest labor union could finally end months of contentious negotiations while making the newspaper more attractive to potential buyers.
The Boston Newspaper Guild and the Globe's owner, The New York Times Co., announced a tentative deal Tuesday night that spares some wage cuts but still has $10 million in annual concessions. The deal was struck two weeks after a similar proposal was narrowly rejected by union members, prompting management to impose a 23 percent wage reduction.
"I do hope that that tension that has been tearing our ranks apart for months now subsides for this agreement," Donovan Slack, the Globe's city hall bureau chief, said Tuesday. "It's obviously a better deal."
The new contract would cut salaries by 5.94 percent, compared with 8.3 percent in the previous proposal, with the difference being made up by additional benefit reductions. Both contract proposals include unpaid furloughs, a pension freeze, a reduction in health care benefits and the elimination of roughly 190 lifetime job guarantees.
Times Co. imposed a 23 percent wage reduction on the union after the initial contract offer was rejected.
Guild members were briefed by a union attorney Wednesday night on the new agreement, which the union leadership has endorsed and which will be voted on July 20. Turnout for the meeting was considerably lighter than a similar session that was held after the first contract offer was announced.
"I think the 23 percent scared enough people that (the new proposal) very well may pass," said Susan Chalisoux, a photo imaging technician who attended the briefing.
Several employees who declined to speak publicly said they felt bullied by management.
"They are cheating us fundamentally, they are cheating us and no one wants to agree to a robbery," said James Franklin, a copy editor and assistant night editor who has worked 37 years at the newspaper. Franklin said he was undecided as to how he would vote on July 20.
"Our aim throughout our negotiations has been to achieve the necessary savings in a way that causes the least hardship for our employees," Globe Publisher Steve Ainsley said in a statement. "We're very pleased to have reached an agreement that accomplishes those goals."
The relationship between the Times Co. and the Guild, which represents roughly 700 editorial, business and advertising employees, has become increasingly strained since April, when the Times Co. announced it needed $20 million in annual concessions from Globe unions _ half from the Guild _ to avoid closing the 137-year-old newspaper. At the time, the company said the Globe had lost $50 million in 2008 and was projected to lose $87 million this year.
The Times Co. reached agreements with six other unions. But Guild negotiations foundered, and the union eventually agreed to put the first contract proposal up to a vote without leadership endorsement.
On June 8, Guild members rejected the contract 277-265. The Times Co. immediately imposed the 23 percent wage cut, which was challenged by the union in an unfair-labor-practices complaint filed by the National Labor Relations Board. Less than a week later, both sides returned to negotiations.
As part of the new agreement, the Times Co. will partially compensate employees for the difference between the 5.94 percent and 23 percent wage cuts they have incurred. In return, it will make one reduced payment to the Guild's health fund.
Scott Allen, a 16-year Globe reporter who voted against the original proposal because he believed the pay cut was too deep, said he expected to vote for the new deal.
"I think that all along, even the people who were voting no, understood that we would have to give concessions," Allen said. "What they were asking on June 8 was just too much. I believe the changes that were made will make it more palatable."
Overwhelming support for the new contract also would improve the Times Co.'s position as it seeks a buyer for the Globe, said Thomas Kochan, director of the Institute for Work and Employment Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management. The Globe has reported that the Times Co. has hired Goldman Sachs to handle potential bids for the newspaper.
"Both parties recognized that they've got to put their best foot forward to get a buyer who can be successful," Kochan said. "This package will make it more attractive for potential buyers."
The Times Co. also can give potential buyers a clearer picture of the Globe's finances, he said.
"Now they can go into intensive discussion with potential buyers and explore specific terms of sale, including potential roles for employees and the unions involved to be partners in the new enterprise," Kochan said.
Slack said she hoped the "nightmare" of negotiations would end next month, allowing the company and the newsroom to focus on how to make the Globe succeed in an industry plagued by declining circulations, sliding advertising revenue and increasing competition from the Internet.
"At the end of the day, newspapers, the Globe included, are facing massive obstacles going forward, but I hope now at least maybe we'll buy a little bit more time to figure out exactly how the Globe is going to surmount those obstacles," she said.