More than 100 employees of the New York Times Company (NYSE: NYT) have signed an online letter urging company officials to not to cut wages and benefits in ongoing contract negotiations.

The letter -- posted on Monday by Bill O’Meara, president of the Newspaper Guild of New York -- follows negotiations between the guild and the Times that have dragged on for 18 months. Craftily avoiding the word “strike,” O’Meara wrote that the offer presented by the Times Co. during contract negotiations last week “come[s] with a threat of impasse.”  

The Newspaper Guild represents union members of the New York Times, along with other newspapers. As it stands, the Times Co.’s offer is about $10 million short of what the guild has said it will accept.  

“We implore you: do not permit The New York Times to be steered any closer to this abyss. This penny-wise path will leave us and the company worse off, eroding the quality of our journalism now and in the future,” the letter stated. “The clock is ticking, as [the Times’ legal counsel] Bernie Plum has said. Indeed it is. We already see talented colleagues regularly being hired away because they can no longer afford to work here.”

Posted at the Web address, the letter was addressed to Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger, executive editor Jill Abramson and incoming CEO Mark Thompson. Signees include mostly reporters and staff editors, as well as several correspondents.   

Since the union’s contract expired in March 2011, negotiations between the two sides -- led by O’Meara and Plum -- have routinely stalled. Pensions have been one of the biggest sticking points in the negotiations, along with bonuses, overtime pay and contract differences between print and digital employees. The guild has asked for a single contract for both, while the Times has sought to keep them separate. “We believe our written agreement should catch up with the agile, enterprising spirit of the newsroom,” O’Meara wrote, adding that “most meaningful distinctions between print and digital journalists have already been erased.”

O’Meara also pointed to a 5 percent pay cut Times employees took in 2009 and wrote that overtime pay is down by half since 2008.

Update: 9/16/ 12 

In an email message, Eileen Murphy, vice president of corporate communications for the Times, said, "We share the frustration of our colleagues in the Guild regarding the length of these negotiations and like them, we are anxious to reach an agreement.  As we have said repeatedly throughout these talks, our goal is a Guild contract that is fair -- one that will help position The Times for future growth and success."

The New York Observer reported that about 200 Times staffers attended a meeting in Midtown on Monday afternoon. The meeting was led by O’Meara, who proposed holding a demonstration outside the Times headquarters at 620 Eighth Avenue. He also suggested that it might be time to set up the famous inflatable rat used by union professionals to draws attention to contract disputes. The suggestion prompted on attendee to shout, “We want the rat!” according to the Observer. 

Like all newspaper companies, the New York Times has struggled over the last decade as the media industry has shifted from print to digital. According to a report on Media Daily News last week, the New York Times newsroom shrunk 40 percent in 10 years, going from 12,050 at the end of 2001 to 7,273 last year.