January 6, 2012 · 0 Comments
NYT eXaminer interviews Grant Glickson about labor, loyalty, and betrayal at The New York Times.
Anyone reading the New York Times this week would think that it was business as usual for the “paper of record.” However, the paper left out that on January 4th 566 current and former Times employees sent a letter to publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. expressing their “profound dismay at several recent developments.” The letter coincides with many significant changes inside the Times and that bring more instability and insecurity for the workers there. NYT eXaminer’s Chris Spannos contacted Grant Glickson to talk about the letter and the situation of Times employees. Grant is chair of the Newspaper Guild New York Times bargaining unit. He has been at the paper for 24 years.
CS: In your 24 years at the paper, what does this letter mean for you and for the other Times employees?
GG: People were very upset at the Times. You have to know the background. Arthur Sulzberger is very loved in the newsroom. He is respected. He has really protected the integrity of the newspaper during these difficult times in our business. So it was a lot for our members to sign a letter to him explaining that they were so upset about what has transpired in the last week, or so, where outgoing CEO Janet Robinson received a tremendous package at a time when we are in contract talks. That amount of money would have settled the contract for 1,100 members.
CS: The package that Janet Robinson is leaving with is worth a total of 15 million dollars, right?
GG: Yes, four-and-a-half million dollars in severance and consulting fees and another ten-and-a-half million for her pension. When the number of four-and-a-half million came out people kind of accepted it. She is a CEO and it is understandable, I think, that she would receive that kind of severance. But when she received the extra ten-and-a-half million to buyout her pension, that is when it really hit a nerve here in the newsroom and throughout the membership because this is a time when they are asking members to freeze their pension and they asked our foreign citizens in oversees bureaus to freeze theirs too. So people really were upset by those two facts.
CS: Who does the Guild represent at the Times? What number of workers there and what kind of skill sets and positions do you represent?
GG: We have 1000 members at the newspaper and another 100 on the digital end-of-things. On the newspaper side we represent from Copy Clerks to News Assistants to Paginators, News Designers, Copy Editors, Photo Editors, Reporters, Advertizing, Account Managers and Telesales, Marketing, Photographers, Art Directors, Graphic Editors, Web Producers, Video Journalists—I think that largely covers our employees.
CS: Over the past few years we have heard about a crisis in print publication, and especially for the Times, a loss in ad revenue, as media becomes more digital. The Times just sold off 16 regional papers and there have been buyouts of long-time columnists and editorial staffers. What is the financial position of the Times? What are the reasons they give for not having a contract to take care of their workers?
GG: They have not told us that they are in financial trouble. They make sure they don’t say that at the bargaining table. Obviously they don’t want to open the books up to us. They just say that they need to do this in these economic times, they need to cut back, and they need to have some savings. That is what they are saying at the bargaining table. Anything that we ask for that costs money has largely been refused at this point. They have told us that they want a cost-savings contract. How serious they are about that I don’t know at this point. But that is everything they have told us about that.
CS: How long have Times workers been without a contract?
GG: Our contract expired in March of last year. We are still operating under the current terms of the contract. We have an Evergreen Clause [which requires old union contracts to remain in force until new agreements are reached] that is part of our contract, so we are still going by the terms of the contract that we previously had.
CS: The letter website, which people can find at saveourtimes.com, also has quotes from employees. For example this one:
“Like many of us who have worked at the NY Times for decades, and feel profoundly proud of—and identified with—the amazing product we put out every day, I feel that the gap between what Janet Robinson will be leaving with, and what we are being offered, is simply wrong.
- Tamar Lewin, Domestic Correspondent
There are many quotes like this that express dismay, but also express loyalty to the paper and pride in the work that gets done there. What are people’s hopes going into the next round of negotiations?
GG: There is a tremendous amount of pride in working here at the Times. There is a tremendous feeling towards the family and how they have treated our members over the years. They have been pretty good to us. I think people are upset that the company has made a number of bad decisions that has cost them a tremendous amount of money. Our people—just like the rest of the industry, just like the rest of the workforce—are now doing more than they ever did but are now being asked to take some tremendous givebacks while they are working harder than ever before. They feel betrayed by the family newspaper and I think a lot of people think of this as a family, but not so much these days, unfortunately. We are hoping to get a fair contract and to be treated the way we should be. A lot of their advertisements say we are the “best journalists in the world.” Well, we think we should be treated that way. That includes not freezing our pension plan and giving us a reasonable wage increase and helping us with our medical plans. I think people just want to be treated fairly.
The other thing is that people have given back to this company, not only in their time and their loyalty to the paper, but also, they even gave back part of their pay. Three years ago the company had financial problems and we gave back over five percent of our pay to them. They did give us, in exchange for that, a week off. But we, in good faith, did recognize the troubles they were facing at the time and gave back. And now that things are better—they are not in any way out of the woods, but things are much better than they were back then—we feel that we should be treated better than we are being treated currently in negotiations.
CS: I noticed that one of the letter’s signatories is the Times labor correspondent Steven Greenhouse. And I read that columnist David Carr tweeted about the letter. Has there been any significant coverage in the paper itself?
GG: Well, the newspaper itself I don’t believe has covered it but it has been all over the media, in the New York Post, the Washington Post, the Observer, Reuters. This letter has really gotten a lot of publicity. You know, and it is because there are a lot of signatories by current and former employees—I believe it is up to 580 now. We have kept the list open for people to sign it. It was very difficult during the holidays because people were away and not checking their messages and so were not aware of what was going on. So People still want the ability to sign on and asked us to do that. So I expect the number to grow.
CS: The Guild sent the letter to Arthur Sulzberger Jr. yesterday. Was it hand delivered? (laughs) Has there been any response?
GG: It was sent through certified mail and also electronically to his email address. And, no, we have not had a response yet.
CS: When is the next round of negotiations?
GG: We have negotiations set for January 13th and again on the 19th.
CS: Well, thank you very much Grant. I look forward to staying in touch and hopefully getting an update on those future negotiations.
GG: Well, thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.
You can find the letter to Arthur Sulzberger Jr. at saveourtimes.com.
Grant Glickson has been the unit chair of The New York Times since being elected in January 2010, and has been active with the Guild for 18 of his 24 years with the newspaper.
Chris Spannos is Editor of NYT eXaminer (NYTX).