Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Union Connection

Many factors are dragging down the "old media," from falling ad revenues to the free content culture of the Internet. But unions are an often-overlooked part of the equation, as I've noted here before.

The unions that are sucking the productivity and profitability out of The Boston Globe are making last-minute concessions in a bid to forestall the death of another great American newspaper, reports Wednesday's Washington Post. But as with so many other heavily-unionized American industries that have been going the way of the Dodo, it's almost certainly too little, too late.

Note in the story that one of the sticking points in the negotiations was a "lifetime job guarantee" enjoyed by some company employees -- a level of job security that only members of the federal bench and members of Congress can rival. "Nearly 470 employees across six unions have the guarantees, including about 190 Newspaper Guild members," reports the Post. "Most got the promises in a contract ratified in 1994, shortly after the Times Co. bought the Globe for $1.1 billion, in exchange for other concessions at the time. Workers can still be fired for cause, but the newspaper says the guarantees reduce its ability to pare its operational structure."

Let's not forget, when writing the obituary for the American newspaper industry, the significant role that unions played in its demise. Other factors matter, of course. Even non-union papers are struggling and failing, it's true. But it also seems evident that the more heavily-unionized the paper, the faster it is sinking. Yet the union connection rarely gets mentioned when the post mortems are done.

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