From Business Insider | New Yorker staffers are preparing for a possible strike as pay negotiations with Condé Nast stall
Union organizers at The New Yorker are readying a strike authorization vote, an escalation that could lead to the most high-profile showdown between organized labor and a media company since a wave of unionization first swept the industry in 2015.
Workers and management are at odds over salary increases, raise guarantees, and paid time off as negotiations over the union's first contract drag on at the prestigious Condé Nast-owned title.
One organizer told Insider that the vote by union members is likely to be held this month, although those plans could be delayed as negotiations continue.
Strike authorizations are common and are one weapon in a bargaining committee's arsenal to put pressure on management during negotiations. If approved, an authorization would give the organizing committee the go-ahead to begin a strike, which is far less common.
The move follows a 24-hour digital work stoppage last month by fact-checkers, producers, and other staffers that make up the bargaining unit.
Organizers said at the time that they found management's wage proposals unacceptable. Those included a salary floor of $45,000, which the union said was only $3,000 more than the lowest current full-time salary.
"Our real goal with the stoppage was to change the tenor of bargaining and try to move management to change their tactics," said Gili Ostfield, a New Yorker print magazine producer on the bargaining committee.
"We are definitely planning escalations," said Hannah Aizenman, the New Yorker's poetry coordinator and another bargaining committee member, following the work stoppage.
A New Yorker spokesperson said: "Negotiation at the bargaining table is the way to a fair and final outcome. We've been bargaining in good faith and intend to stay actively engaged in the process. On Thursday, at our latest session, we returned nine counter-proposals on a range of issues. The majority of the proposals are now with the union; we are awaiting responses on those, including the company's first counter-offer on wages. There's more work to be done and we continue to want to reach a fair deal as quickly as possible."
A strike action could be matched by the company's other unions
A strike at The New Yorker would be the first for a member of the local NewsGuild of New York since a 147-day New York Daily News strike in 1990-91, a Guild spokesperson said. The organization represents newsrooms including The New York Times, the Daily Beast, and New York magazine.
Any action could potentially be echoed by the three other unions at Condé Nast. One of the organizers said that Ars Technica and Pitchfork, which are at similar junctures in negotiations, would likely hold strike authorization votes if the New Yorker does. Staffers at Wired magazine recently unionized in April.
The threat of workers at other magazines joining a potential strike could increase the leverage for the union's demands.
New Yorker employees announced their plans to unionize in 2018. The unit comprises about 110 fact checkers, copy editors, production staffers, proofreaders, and video and audio employees — the behind-the-scenes workers that help make the magazine function. Editors are not included in the unit, nor are the magazine's roster of big-name staff writers, who typically work under separate annual contracts at the title and are not full-time staffers.
A recent study showed pay disparities at the magazine
Discussions have recently moved to one of the final hurdles: economics. The union released a pay study last month that found a median salary of $64,000, about 5% below the typical New York City media employee salary (based on estimates from MIT's living wage calculator).
The study found other discrepancies. Proofreaders, for instance, have a median salary of $57,000, despite a median tenure of 20 years. According to the report, a gender pay gap at the publication affects women of color in particular.
To be sure, a strike is both a rare event and the last result for either side. The looming threat of a strike can often lead to a conclusion of such negotiations.
While there have been work stoppages and walkouts by media company unions in recent years, a full-on strike would be the first since a new crop of these unions emerged in the national media, starting with the former Gawker Media in 2015. Digital publishers like BuzzFeed, Vice, and Vox, as well as legacy magazine companies like Hearst have since unionized. (Staffers at Insider are not unionized.)
Strike authorization votes, however, are not unprecedented. In November 2018, for instance, employees at law news site Law360 authorized a strike and picketed before reaching their first contract with management.
"It's something that the committee can have in their pocket at the bargaining table," said Hamilton Nolan, who helped unionize Gawker and currently writes about labor for In These Times. "They have a whole lot of leverage on their side and are using it really wisely and justly."
As they prepare the authorization vote, organizers have been discussing what a digital picket line might look like since staffers have been working from home during the pandemic.
The New Yorker union organizers said that part of the reason they are being aggressive is because of The New Yorker's large profile in the industry.
"We're the first union at Condé Nast and we are the largest. We see The New Yorker setting the standard for working conditions at Condé Nast and in the industry," Aizenman said.
The union won a concession in October when Condé Nast agreed to include in New Yorker contracts a "just cause" labor protection against arbitrary termination. The deal came after Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Elizabeth Warren backed out of The New Yorker festival until the company changed its position.
The New Yorker has been the brightest financial spot for Condé Nast in recent years, thanks to a robust subscriber business. But the picture at the wider company is more bleak. According to a New York Times report last year, the US division of the magazine publisher lost about $100 million on $900 million in revenue in 2019.
Share this story