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Wirecutter’s Black Friday Pick Is a Fair Contract

Black Friday gives the website's staff some much-needed leverage.

Wirecutter Union
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Every single one of Wirecutter’s unionized employees is on strike as of midnight tonight, and they will remain on strike during the entire Black Friday extended edition period we now call “Cyber Week.” For a product review site, this is the most crucial period of the year, both for the site’s traffic and affiliate revenue and for its employees’ wallets, as they typically rack up dozens of hours of overtime while working through the holiday. This year, they’re forgoing that in favor of something more valuable: leverage.

This is a very easy judgment call to make: don’t break the picket line. Don’t visit Wirecutter’s site, and don’t shop via their affiliate marketing links for any of your Black Friday/ holiday e-shopping purchases.

Wirecutter is an excellent site, and the services they provide are incredibly helpful when it comes to navigating the overwhelming world of consumer goods. But I promise that you will be fine without it for a few days, and that abstinence will hopefully give the site’s staff the leverage they need to secure a better future for themselves and for the work that they do.

And the strike is almost certainly happening. Publicly, Times’ management has stuck to the same line the past two times I’ve reached out for comment.

“The New York Times has a long history of productive relationships with unions to advance our shared objectives,” Times’ spokesperson Danielle Rhoades Ha said. “We’re actively working with the Wirecutter Union to reach a collective bargaining agreement that continues to reward our employees for their work and contributions to The Times’s success, and we look forward to continuing those negotiations at the bargaining table in early December.”

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But internally, management has been more explicit in attempting to frame the strike as the unfortunate result of the Wirecutter union’s stubbornness, not the other way around. David Perpich, the Times‘ head of standalone products (and grandson of Arthur Ochs Sulzberger) who oversees Wirecutter, posted a long message in the Times #all-company slack channel Tuesday saying he was “disappointed” about the strike. Discourse Blog viewed a screenshot of the message.

“We were surprised when the Guild set an arbitrary deadline in the middle of an established negotiation blackout period (the purpose of which, this year and last, is to make sure everyone is focused on serving our readers during our busiest period),” Perpich wrote. “When we said we needed to continue to maintain the blackout period two weeks ago, we immediately offered negotiation dates right after Cyber Week. We are still waiting for a response from the Wirecutter Union. We hope we’ll be able to continue negotiating then.”

As NY Mag’s Choire Sicha (formerly of the Times) reported:

Emoji reactions to his Slack post, as of about 11 a.m. on Wednesday, were not friendly. They included union logos and at least 39 people posting a fist raised in solidarity, 34 people posting a grimace, 38 people posting the thinking-face emoji, plus 12 people responding with an emoji depicting Gritty, the chaos-oriented Philadelphia Flyers mascot.

That about sums it up. But it’s worth noting the spin here: Perpich, and by extension Times management, is framing the strike as a consequence of the union wanting to break a “bargaining blackout period” over the holidays, which is portrayed as some official period that both sides agreed upon.

But that’s not what it is, according to a union member. Sarah Kobos, a senior photo editor at Wirecutter and vice-chair of the union’s bargaining committee, told Discourse Blog that the “blackout period” is a vaguely-defined period leading up to Cyber Week that the union never agreed to. Kobos said that the Wirecutter union gave management nine potential bargaining dates between November 9 and November 22 including nights and weekends; management rejected them all, as well as an additional day of bargaining that the Times editorial guild (which, like the Wirecutter union, is affiliated with the News Guild of New York) offered to donate.

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“We believe bargaining this contract to completion and getting back to work is more important than blackout dates, and we have given them answers on dates for bargaining,” Kobos said.

It’s worth reiterating what exactly we’re talking about here. One of the union’s biggest demands is increased salary minimums split between Wirecutter’s 67 unit members, which they estimate would cost the company only $300,000 the first year. As NY Mag reported, the starting annual salary rate for Wirecutter writers is lower than that for a one-year NYT fellowship. And that’s not all: The New York Times Company said in August that the company held nearly $950 million in cash at the end of June, and projected it would hit 8.5 million subscribers by the end of 2021.

Sure, $300,000 isn’t nothing. But for a company with enormous cash reserves and booming subscription numbers—driven largely by standalone products like cooking, games and, yes, Wirecutter—that price tag could be one of the biggest deals of the year.