Globe Writers Guild Punch Pinch - Charlie Warner - MediaBizBlogger

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On Monday, June 8, members of the Newspaper Guild union at The Boston Globe rejected a package of wage and compensation cuts offered by the Globe's owner The New York Times Company, whose CEO is Arthur "Pinch" Sulzberger. As a result, Pinch and the Times Company might close the venerable Globe.

New York Times reporter Richard Perez-Pena wrote, "After a day of heavy voting, the guild said its members had rejected the package by a vote of 277 to 265 — meaning 542 of the guild's 670 members had voted. The results were posted Monday evening on the union's Web site."

The first thing that struck me about this paragraph in the Monday, June 8 Times was how ironic it was that the union put the announcement of the vote that could well be the fatal blow to the Globe on a website on the Internet, the disruptive technology that is the primary cause of the death of newspapers, including the Globe.

To be logically consistent, the union should have printed a one-page release and hand-delivered it to everyone interested, but, of course, that would have been too expensive, too wasteful, reached too few people, and taken too long, just like the newspaper they are voting to kill.

What's going on here? Why would only 71 percent of the eligible Guild members vote? Why would a majority of them vote to reject an offer that would keep the paper from closing, as The Times Company and Pinch have threatened to do if they did not get the concessions they wanted – concessions other unions had voted to accept?

One Boston Globe reporter who voted for the package said with selfishly twisted logic, "I can't afford to gamble with a quarter of my pay. How can I pay my mortgage?"

As is the case with too many American workers, especially union members, who often think they work for the union, not their organization, it is about them and their needs, not the needs of the organization or other workers. It's the culture of me as an individual, not us as an organization. The "us" for these people is a tribe and the tribe is the union, not the organization, which is "them."

In Perez-Pena's Times story, he quoted Dan Kennedy, a journalism professor at Northeastern University who has closely followed the Globe talks. Kennedy "said the showdown had been badly mishandled on both sides, by a belligerent union leadership and a company that never adequately explained itself."

Why is the union belligerent? And why did the company never adequately explain itself?

I believe the union was belligerent for a number of reasons, including stupid, cynical, greedy union leadership that is more interested in preserving their own jobs than the jobs of their members and that probably has a pathological hatred of management, no matter what the situation is (that's why union management often get into leadership positions – to vent their rage).

But another reason the union was belligerent was, as I wrote in an April 29 blog, because of the principles of equity theory. Equity theory "was first developed in 1962 by John Stacey Adams, a workplace and behavioral psychologist, who asserted that employees seek to maintain equity between the inputs that they bring to a job and the outcomes that they receive from it against the perceived inputs and outcomes of others."

Earlier this year, in its Annual Report, The Times Company revealed that CEO Pinch Sulzberger had made (note I didn't write "earned") over $2 million and that the company's president Janet Robinson made over $4 million. It was soon after this compensation was revealed that the Times Company asked Globe employees to take big cuts in pay, benefits, and lifetime employment guarantees.

Did it ever occur to Pinch to take a big pay cut? He could have paid himself $1 a year and said, "Hey, we're all in this together. The important thing is to preserve the news organizations that serve the public interest." He could have fired Robinson who isn't needed to run a much pared down organization, the revenues of which are tanking. He could have demonstrated that a bloated top management group was delayering and sharing the pain.

But Pinch is totally tone deaf. He has as much empathy and emotional intelligence as a buggy whip, as an inanimate sheet of paper made from dead trees and with smudgy ink on it.

If The Times Company management had any brains at all it would have known about the results of the ultimatum game and the dictator game that behavioral economics researchers conduct. This research provides "evidence against the Homo economicus model of individual decisions. Since an individual who rejects a positive offer is choosing to get nothing rather than something, that individual must not be acting solely to maximize his economic gain."

Several attempts to explain this behavior are available. Some authors suggest that individuals get some psychological benefit from engaging in punishment of those perceived to be receiving an unfair share of the rewards. As I wrote in the previous blog post, "People will act against their own best interests when they think they are being treated unfairly. They may go down, but they're going to take the greedy bastards down with them."

I think this is what is happening with the Globe Writers Guild vote, and you can't blame the Writers Guild members as much as belligerent union management and stupid, uncaring Times Company management – Pinch Sulzberger – who has been the problem all along, and should be punched out of the organization.

Until he retired in 2002, Charlie Warner was Vice President of AOL's Interactive Marketing division. Before joining AOL, he was the Goldenson Endowed Professor at the Missouri Journalism School where he taught media management and sales, and he created and ran the annual Management Seminar for News Executives. Charlie can be contacted at

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