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Ahhh, the Book of Life (BOL), a euphemism for guaranteed lifetime employment at The Boston Globe. If you are in the Book of Life, it means you cannot be laid off. Of course if the Globe shuts down as threatened by parent New York Times Company (NYT), everyone gets tossed out.
Does BOL fall into the category of banker CEO abuses or auto worker excesses? Given today’s tough times, the answer is yes, but before I toss the BOL into the bonfire, let me answer an obvious question. Would I have jumped on the list when such a sinecure was offered in 1993 and the Globe was raking in profits with abandon? Absolutely. Who wouldn’t? It’s like being told by the IRS you don’t have to pay taxes anymore.
But the downsides of giving this to a reported 345 Globe employees are huge. The final chapter in the so-called Book of Life may be the about the death of the Globe. I have a call into Globe PR manager Bob Powers to get the lowdown on the BOL.
The financial burden is obvious. You can’t get rid of people when times get desperate. The Herald has reported that the BOL is invalidated if the Globe faces and “dramatic and irreversible” decline in its business. While that would seem to be the case, an attorney could openly question if this is indeed the case.
In fairness to the Globe, it has offered numerous buyouts with the earlier ones said to be very attractive. Most companies just hack away at their workforce little or no notice and I make no apologies for believing that firing good people and performers for the sake of profit is immoral. Take IBM for example: it’s laying off 5,000 Americans in its Global Services Division after 12% growth in its fourth quarter profits of $4.4 billion. And much of the work is being shipped off to India. That is plain rotten.
However, if people need to go to preserve the mother ship, then go they must. I highly doubt the Globe can sustain present staffing levels given the prospects for newspaper and magazine publishing in general. If it was just the recession, the Globe would bounce back eventually, but the Internet has irreversibly altered advertising spending in a way that has permanently diminished traditional media.
Lifetime employment also guarantees mediocrity and poor performance. If minimum effort can get you by, why bust your butt? Some still will, but that some won’t is simply human nature at work (or not at work).
Stories about the Globe’s fate appear every day. A Globe story this morning reported said that active negotiations by a rescuer are not underway and that the Globe might not even be for sale. Yeah, right! The Globe is still a powerful and attractive brand to local movers and shakers, but perhaps the red ink is just too daunting.
Maybe the NYT sees shutting it down as the easiest way to get out from under all liabilities. Meanwhile, the Herald in its daily Globe rundown reported that severance, guaranteed jobs and pension liabilities will make shutting down the Globe very costly for the NYT or a new owner soldiering on with the newspaper. And a copy of a letter from Globe publisher Steven P. Ainsley urging employees to maintain focus as layoffs go down, pay is cut and union concessions are extracted is on the Herald’s web site.