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The New York Times’ War On Its Newest Unions Is Heating Up

Employees at Wirecutter are threatening a strike over Black Friday weekend, the site's busiest time of the year.

Courtesy News Guild/ Jon Schleuss

Yesterday, more than 150 members of three unions at the New York Times flooded the sidewalks outside of the 40th street entrance to the paper’s offices, wearing red and waving signs. They chanted slogans that, by now, should be familiar to their bosses upstairs.

What’s disgusting?  Union busting!”

What’s outrageous? Stagnant wages!

At Wirecutter we recommend: the union-busting has to end!

Times management, led by relatively new CEO Meredith Kopit Levien, has been running an aggressive, by-the-book corporate anti-union campaign against both of the paper’s newest organizing drives, the Wirecutter Union and the still-unrecognized New York Times Tech Guild, dragging out negotiations over the size of the Tech Guild’s unit and Wirecutter’s contract for as long as possible to the growing disdain and disappointment of their employees. Those employees, in turn, are starting to get fed up, with the fight escalating on both sides. In August, more than 300 of the Tech Guild’s 600-or-so unit members walked off the job, and now, the two sides are coming to the most dramatic clash yet: The Wirecutter Union has threatened to walk out for several days over Black Friday and the Thanksgiving shopping weekend, through “Cyber Monday,” one of the site’s busiest periods of the year.

“The ball is very much in management’s court here,” Sarah Kobos, a senior photo editor at Wirecutter and vice chair of the union, told Discourse Blog. “It’s in their power to not let this strike happen. As far as what our side is feeling, we’re extremely frustrated and disheartened but we’re continuing to hold the line and are ready to walk out.”

A spokesperson for the Times said the paper was “actively working with the Wirecutter Union to reach a collective bargaining agreement,” and that they “look forward to continuing negotiations after Cyber Week,” noting that they had offered several potential bargaining dates in early December.

In other words, neither side is budging—yet. But the union says it has gone out of the way to accommodate additional bargaining sessions before next week. In fact, the Times editorial union, which, like the tech and Wirecutter units, is represented by the News Guild, offered to give up some of its scheduled bargaining days to the Wirecutter Union in order to help prevent a strike. Management declined, according to the News Guild.

Underlying all of this, of course, is the hypocrisy at work on the side of Times‘ management, which negotiates with around 10 other unions at some level of its organization. Editorially, the paper has long maintained that it supports organized labor, but this ideal does not seem to extend to the paper’s corporate ownership. (Kopit Levien, it’s worth noting, was recently given a board seat at Instacart, which has its own track record of shutting down nascent unionization attempts as quickly as possible.)

“It’s not like it’s [management’s] first rodeo with unions. They’ve been doing this for a really long time,” Kobos said. “And you know the Times [is holding] over a billion dollars in cash—it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why [they’re union busting] other than they want to hold on to as much power as they can for as long as they can.”

And at this point, the contract negotiations are largely splitting hairs at the scale the Times operates at: Wirecutter estimates that the salary minimums they’re requesting would cost $300,000 for their 67 unit members for the first year.

The Tech Guild, meanwhile, is being stonewalled at an even earlier stage in the process. After hearings following the August walkout, the guild made its case for a united, 600-strong unit, which management is arguing should be fractured into as many as five different bargaining units. The results of the overall hearing, which is now under review by the National Labor Relations Board, don’t have a set deadline, leaving the Tech Guild in limbo for the time being. (The NLRB is also considering several accusations of Unfair Labor Practices against the times, and on Tuesday notified management that its ban on unit members who work with interns publicly supporting the union drives was illegal.)

“People are more disappointed that management is pushing the hard anti-union position on this, rather than dissuaded [from organizing],” Goran Svorcan, a senior software developer at the Times who’s on the Tech Guild’s organizing committee, told Discourse Blog. Still, Svorcan said they’re watching management’s game of chicken with Wirecutter closely.

“The fact that they all voted to do this [walk out] is extremely inspirational for us—regardless of how it pans out it’s a show of strength, and hopefully it’s something we can incorporate into that future contract fight,” he said.

Next week, we’ll see who blinks first.

Correction 4:40 PM, 11/19/21: A previous version of this story stated that the ULP the NLRB found to be illegal dealt with interns publicly supporting the union; it was in fact a restriction on unit members who work with interns publicly supporting the union.