The New York Times and the Newspaper Guild of New York will turn to an outside mediator to help hammer out a contract, it was announced Wednesday.

Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the paper's publisher, broke the news to staff in an email. At the union's suggestion, the mediator will be Martin Scheinman, an arbitrator who has heard disputes at the Times before.

The introduction of a mediator comes after two major developments this week: employees staged a brief walkout on Monday, and representatives for management walked out of Tuesday's negotiating session and said that the newspaper would make its "final offer" for a contract on Thursday.

Times science correspondent Donald G. McNeil Jr., who has been a vocal critic of the company's management, said mediation was a positive development in an email to staffers on Wednesday. In a note obtained by The Huffington Post, he wrote, "This is very good for the process - we were getting nowhere."

He clarified Scheinman's role. "A mediator listens to both sides and then shuttles back and forth between the two rooms like Henry Kissinger, leaning on each of them to give in bit by bit until a deal is reached," McNeil wrote.

McNeil added that whatever deal reached by the parties will not be final without a vote by employees, and that union members can reject it and get negotiators back to the bargaining table if they don't like the terms.

"That, of course, raises the risks that the company will retaliate," he wrote. "But Christ, we’ve been putting up with their bluster and their “you do this at your peril” crap for 18 months now. Another dose shouldn’t scare us."

Below, read the full text of McNeil's memo:


So – there’s big news. (Arthur just broke it as the Guild was getting ready to.)
The Times has agreed to go to mediation. It has also agreed to the Guild’s suggestion that the mediator be a guy named Marty Sheinman.

This is very good for the process – we were getting nowhere.

Whether it is good for us remains to be seen.

The union proposed Sheinman not because he’s pro-union but because he’s said to be super-smart. He’s a private mediator – he is paid by both sides to try to bring them to a deal. There are Federal mediators too, but the one assigned to this area apparently is not respected much.

Mediation is not arbitration. An arbitrator hears both sides and then imposes a deal. A mediator listens to both sides and then shuttles back and forth between the two rooms like Henry Kissinger, leaning on each of them to give in bit by bit until a deal is reached.

It’s good for the process because at last a grownup is being dragged into it who can listen to the part that Bernie Plum keeps his fingers in his ears about – that the company has a lot of cash and would be smart to use some of it to make us happy instead of making enemies of us.

We should be armed with some smart analyses to show him of the company’s cash position and the reasonable nature of our position. Fortunately, a couple of other super-smart people, Steve Greenhouse and Richard Perez-Pena, have recently written just such analyses.

This could be a face-saving way out for the company too. Plum and Hayes may have realized they screwed up and this lets them blame the mediator if they don’t get whatever they presumably promised Arthur.

You, as the membership, DO NOT HAVE TO ACCEPT whatever gets hammered out in mediation. No contract is final without a membership ratification vote. If you don’t like the wages, if you don’t like the pension, if you don’t like the health insurance, if you don’t like the work rules -- you can vote No and force us to go back to the bargaining table or the mediator and fight for a better one. That, of course, raises the risks that the company will retaliate. But Christ, we’ve been putting up with their bluster and their “you do this at your peril” crap for 18 months now. Another dose shouldn’t scare us.

The mobilization committee is meeting today at 5:30 to figure out best response.

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  • Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., publisher

  • Mark Thompson, CEO

  • Dean Baquet, managing editor

  • David Leonhardt, Washington bureau chief

  • Bill Keller, columnist and former executive editor

  • Andrew Rosenthal, editorial page editor

  • Paul Krugman, columnist

  • Thomas Friedman, columnist

  • Maureen Dowd, columnist

  • James Risen, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter

  • David Brooks, columnist

  • Gail Collins (center), columnist

  • Frank Bruni, columnist

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  • Nicholas Kristof, columnist

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  • Charles Blow, columnist

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  • Cathy Horyn, fashion critic

  • Mark Bittman, food columnist

  • Leah Finnegan, news assistant, Op-Ed/Sunday Review