Hard times at the New York Times

New York Times union employees staged the world’s most polite union walkout yesterday, filing out of the newspaper’s headquarters for a brief period to protest the slow pace of contract negotiations. The Times Newspaper Guild has been engaged in protracted contract talks for 18 months, and the talks look like they’re going nowhere. So the union fired a dignified shot at Arthur Sulzberger Jr. yesterday, shuffling out of the Times’s glittering Midtown headquarters, walking around the block, and then heading back inside and back to work.

A union memo to Times Guild employees says the newspaper is looking for between $12,000 and $15,000 in annual pension and health care cuts. The memo portrays the newspaper’s brass as offering Times union employees a “poisoned chalice” of “perpetually shrinking compensation.” The Guild casts the pension and health care cuts as a “disaster, for us as individuals, and for the ability of The New York Times to attract and keep talented people.” And it mocks the Times Company’s efforts to create separate union contracts for print and digital operations, which have become intertwined in recent years. “We have more than earned fair wages and benefits,” the Guild memo argues. “We will accept nothing less.”

That’s all pretty boilerplate outraged-union-rep stuff. But instead of raising a ruckus on the sidewalk with scabby inflatable rats, as some unions do, the Times Guild sent the dignified message that they were mad as hell, and for 10 or 15 minutes, they would prefer to not take it, but only in a nonbinding, time-permitting manner. Union organizers went to hilarious lengths to make the walkout as non-confrontational as possible. It asked union members to walk out “if you have flexibility in your work schedule that permits a 10 or 15 minute break at 3:35.” And it assured employees that the rabble-rousing stickers Guild organizers would be distributing would only contain “very short” slogans.

The Guild contract negotiations come at an interesting time for the Times’s parent company. The Times Co. has been recording modest profits over the past year. However, according to a recent New York magazine essay, the paper’s controlling family is agitating for more aggressive cost-cutting measures that would allow the Times Co. to restore a lucrative special dividend for members of the Ochs-Sulzberger clan. New York argued that disagreements over measures like unloading the Boston Globe led Arthur Sulzberger Jr. to push the Times Co.’s former CEO, Janet Robinson, out the door, golden parachute in hand.

A similar cash-hungry family dynamic led the Bancrofts to sell the Wall Street Journal. Now it looks like it’s squeezing the Times Guild. Yesterday, Times Assistant to the Editor Walt Baranger told the New York Observer that the Guild’s beef isn’t with newspaper brass; Baranger told the Observer the Guild needs to win over the Times Co.’s board, which is a polite way of pinning the blame for union strife on Sulzberger’s extended family.  “News management gets it,” Baranger said. “We’re really talking to the boardroom — the people who don’t understand that journalists are not interchangeable.”

                                                                                                                                            –PAUL MCMORROW

BEACON HILL

House Republicans voted with Minority Leader Brad Jones of North Reading nearly 96 percent of the time during the 2011-2012 session, the Lowell Sun reports.

The head of the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy registers as a lobbyist, as the standoff over the Boston nonprofit’s state funding deepens. CommonWealth’s summer issue detailed the Greenway funding fight.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination has dismissed a complaint by a Newton restaurateur who claimed Quincy officials denied her a permit to operate a restaurant because of her Chinese heritage.

Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch has stepped in to give a bar owner time to get a permit that would let a mural depicting President Obama as Jimi Hendrix remain on an outside wall.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

The New Republic’s Noam Scheiber doesn’t think much of Bob Woodward’s The Price of Politics, which he calls “relentlessly biased against the president” and nostalgic for an outmoded way of doing business in Washington.

ELECTION 2012

Mitt Romney rips President Obama’s handling of foreign policy in a speech that may preview the line of attack he will take in their October 22 debate on foreign affairs. Time reports there are differences between Romney and Obama on foreign policy, but not as many as the Romney camp would have you think. The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza asks, “Is Obama overrated as a candidate?” New York magazine dissects Romney’s Etch-a-Sketch moment. Newt Gingrich says Romney flipped on lowering taxes for the rich. Romney reboots his efforts in Ohio. Bill Clinton urges Obama not to go on the attack in the candidates’ next debate. Goldman Sachs employees abandon the Obama campaign. Keller@Large wonders if Obama’s debate performance is a reflection of a subconscious reluctance to win another term.

National Journal previews Thursday’s VP debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan.

Bolstered by voters who think bipartisanship is a good thing, US Sen. Scott Brown leads Elizabeth Warren by four points in a new WBUR poll. Voters surveyed in a Western New England University poll blame Brown more than Warren for the US Senate race’s negative tone. The poll also suggests concerns over control of the Senate give Warren an opening. Warren and Brown’s television ad blitz gets blitz-ier.

In a meeting with the Milford Daily News editorial board, Fourth Congressional District opponents Sean Bielat and Joseph Kennedy III each said relieving economic insecurity is their main goal, though they both had different views for its cause and cure.

The Salem News analyzes the Fishman factor in the Sixth Congressional District race, a reference to Libertarian Daniel Fishman of Beverly.

The group fighting the ballot question that would allow doctor-assisted suicide has raised three times the money as supporters, mostly from Catholic-affiliated and conservative groups.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

US News & World Report says the answer to the question, “Are you better off now than four years ago?is a matter of geography.

Georgia begins collecting sales tax from online retailers with no physical presence in the state, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports,

The Upper Crust may be going under, as the gourmet pizza chain that has been beset by labor and financial woes files for bankruptcy protection.

EDUCATION

Class sizes in the Bridgewater-Raynham school district have shrunk at all levels to the mid-20s after years of overcrowding with the addition of 25 new teachers hired after voters in both towns approved a Proposition 2½ override.

Gov. Rick Perry of Texas is renewing his call for $10,000 college degrees, but some are questioning whether it can be done, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The Massachusetts School Building Authority agrees to pay two-thirds of the $800,000 cost of a study to determine the size, cost, and design of a proposed new school in Bradford, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

The MetroWest Daily News applauds MassBay Community College’s decision to build a new campus in downtown Framingham.

HEALTH CARE

The Framingham drug maker accused of producing contaminated steroids manufactured shots that were used by 13,000 people, the Associated Press reports (via Telegram & Gazette). So far 105 people have fallen sick and nine have died.

A man badly injured in the 2003 Station nightclub fire in Rhode Island received a hand transplant on Sunday at Mass. General Hospital, the first time such an operation has been carried out at a Boston hospital.

Paul Levy calls attention to recent reports about the challenges facing MRI manufacturers and doctors with the growing number of overweight and obese patients.

MEDIA

The Beat the Press panel wonders if “fact-checking” is just another name for what we used to call “reporting.”