Returning to the Office is a Mandatory Subject Of Bargaining. The Labor Board Agrees.
Since July, The NewsGuild of New York has been demanding that employers live up to their obligation to bargain over any return-to-office (RTO) plans and that they implement rigorous health and safety standards in our workplaces.
Our position since the start of the pandemic has been unequivocal: employers must prioritize the health and safety of their employees and the community over hazy conceptions of workplace culture or their misgivings about empty, leased office space.
In August, our executive committee passed a resolution laying out our layered bargaining approach to health and safety: enforced vaccine mandates, voluntary returns to offices, mandatory masking in common areas, and strong ventilation and filtration systems.
Since then, Guild members have organized in shop after shop to fight off reckless and unlawful return-to-office mandates at Meredith (People, PeopleTV, Entertainment Weekly, Shape, Martha Stewart Living), The New York Times, Reuters, & Condé Nast.
At Meredith, a supermajority of the shop signed on to a petition demanding that the company delay a mandatory return-to-office date indefinitely, and instead engage in meaningful bargaining over return-to-office as part of a complete contract.
Meredith Union members from across all five brands packed out RTO bargaining sessions. Bargaining committee members shared heart-wrenching stories about the personal losses and stress they have experienced during the pandemic, including the loss of a beloved colleague at People Magazine.
In addition to demanding bargaining and escalating pushback from workers, Guild members at Meredith also filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB or simply, the Board), seeking 10(j) relief. That means we asked the Board to seek an injunction in federal court to stop Meredith from forcing our members back to the office by unilaterally implementing its return-to-office mandate.
The power of member organizing worked! Meredith has repeatedly kicked back their September return-to-office date—first to October, then to November, and now to 2022.
In fact we were so successful in pushing back, the Board dismissed our ULP as unnecessary at this time. The results of our organizing is clear: no unilateral implementation of unsafe return-to-office mandates.
Just as importantly, in the Board’s dismissal of Meredith's ULP, it explicitly supports our position that management must bargain with us over any plan to return to the office. We have it in writing from the Board: RTO is a mandatory subject of bargaining.
In finding that no past practice existed giving the employer the right to make these changes, the Board supports our position that under the law, RTO is also a status quo issue. Management has no right to implement, and we are under no obligation to agree on returning to the office prior to your ratification of a complete agreement.
While the Board found that the Company’s repeated moving of the target date is evidence that Meredith is in fact bargaining with us, we still think the Company’s repeated unilateral actions are evidence of bad faith. We disagree with the Board’s determination on this point and strongly believe that the management’s brinkmanship and strong-arm tactics violate their obligation to bargain with us in good faith. As we've already shown, if this continues we are prepared to and we will not hesitate to take additional action.
Nonetheless, we are grateful that the Board has set the record straight, and put employers on notice that they must bargain over RTO. Hopefully employers across the country will take notice and come to the table to bargain with their employees over what is literally a matter of life and death.
In the labor movement, we know that the best protection workers have is each other. As we hopefully begin emerging from this horrible pandemic, the NewsGuild takes seriously our responsibility to raise health and safety standards for all workers in our industry and beyond. If you would like to learn more, we recommend the Labor Notes article published in September by NYGuild president Susan DeCarava and mobilization director Chris Brooks. You can also reach out directly to the Guild at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Share this story