New York Times Staff Stages First Major Strike Over Salary Hike Since 1978
In a historic demonstration at The New York Times (NYT), more than 1,110 employees, including reporters and editors, started a 24-hour strike at Thursday midnight after more than a year-and-a-half of negotiations over an agreement for a new contract failed.
The contract between the newspaper and The New York Times Guild expired in March 2021 and negotiators failed to agree on salaries, health and retirement benefits and other issues after 40 rounds of talks, NYT reported. The Gray Lady and the NewsGuild of New York are stuck over several issues, particularly wages, amid a backdrop of layoffs and cuts across the media industry.
The union negotiating the contract, which is part of the NewsGuild of New York, represents about 1,450 employees in the newsroom, advertising and other areas of the company.
The union accused NYT of bargaining in bad faith on Wednesday. “Their wage proposal still fails to meet the economic moment lagging both inflation and the average rate of wage gains in the US,” the union said while announcing the strike.
“We’re incredibly fortunate to work for one of the few places in media or print media that is profitable, healthily profitable,” sports reporter Kevin Draper told the BBC. “And yet the proposals that management has made are barely better than what we got last time.”
NewsGuild’s newsletter Union Times described NYT’s wage concessions as “paltry” and alleged that the management has “barely budged” on the issue. NewsGuild had informed NYT about its strike last Friday with both sides trying to avert it, CNN Business reported.
NYT’s senior political correspondent and CNN analyst Maggie Haberman tweeted: “After 20 months of negotiations, today I’m walked out with more than 1,100 of my @NYTimesGuild colleagues.”
Some employees urged readers on Wednesday not to read its content during the walkout. “We’re asking readers to not engage in any [New York Times] platforms tomorrow and stand with us on the digital picket line!” Amanda Hess, a critic-at-large for the newspaper, posted on Twitter. “Read local news. Listen to public radio. Make something from a cookbook. Break your Wordle streak.”
Several union members held picket signs, handed out pamphlets and demanded better wages at a rally outside NYT’s offices at Times Square on Thursday afternoon. “We make the paper; we make the profits!” the crowd chanted.
Salary hikes is the biggest sticking point. While the company offered union members a 5.5% raise in salary this year, 3% hikes in 2023 and 2024 and a 4% retroactive bonus to compensate for the lack of raises since the contract expired, the union proposed a 10% raise upon ratification of a contract, 5.5% raises in 2023 and 2024 and an 8.5% retroactive bonus, according to NYT.
“My rent went up 8% last year,” senior staff editor Andrea Zagata told BBC. “So I guess my question is: what is a 2.8% raise doing for me, especially when the company is spending so much on executive salary, stock buybacks and dividends?”
Other issues include return-to-work policies and the performance rating system for employees. A union study released in August found the rating system ‘discriminatory’. “White Guild members were more likely to get the top ratings while Black and Hispanic members were more likely to get the lowest two ratings,” the study said.
Subsequently, some senior NYT managers studied ways to improve the rating process with one of the managing editors Marc Lacey announcing plans to update it in October, the management claimed.
“Our ultimate aim is to have a simpler system that everyone applies fairly and consistently, and to focus more on thoughtful feedback than ratings,” Lacey wrote in an email.
While NYT maintains that it offered the guild “significant increases”, the union counters that the management has “frequently misrepresented its own proposals”.
The management has sought to conduct negotiations and partly blamed the lack of progress on it. “They refuse to meet in person,” an executive requesting anonymity told CNN Business. “It’s a really important point. I can’t emphasise it enough. We have negotiations on Zoom. There are eight or so people from management, as many as 18 people on the bargaining committee from the NewsGuild and as many as 200 union members watching as observers.”
Negotiations are “essentially public”, the executive added. “And that changes the whole dynamic of negotiations. It becomes very performative and very theatrical. It’s really hard to get things done. It’s like a show. And we need productive negotiations to get to a deal.”
Countering the management’s allegations, Susan DeCarava, president, NewsGuild of New York, said, “Union democracy is crucial to union power. That is why we don’t do closed-door negotiations, which management continues to demand.”
A disappointed Joe Kahn, NYT’s executive editor, said, “Strikes typically happen when talks deadlock. That is not where we are today,” adding that while both the parties “remain apart on a number of issues, we continue to trade proposals and make progress toward an agreement”.
In an email sent to the employees NYT president and chief executive Meredith Kopit Levien wrote: “It’s disappointing that they’re taking such drastic action given the clear commitment we’ve shown to negotiate our way to a contract that provides Times journalists with substantial pay increases, market-leading benefits and flexible working conditions.”
The strike posed a challenge to NYT in delivering news to its readers. The executive acknowledged that the protest would certainly create difficulties though the management was prepared for such an eventuality and could rely on its other resources, such as the international staff, which is largely not part of the union.
No protest or walkout has stopped NYT’s publication since a strike by pressmen and others in 1978, which lasted 88 days.
“We will produce a robust report on Thursday. But it will be harder than usual,” Kahn said in an email sent to the staff.
Kopit Levien added that NYT has “plans in place to ensure that we meet our obligation to our readers and the general public by reporting the news as fully as possible through any disruption caused by a strike”.
The last time NYT journalists struck work was for less than a day in 1981 and staged a brief walkout in 2017 to protest the elimination of the copy desk.
Kopit Levien wrote in a companywide email that investment in the news report had resulted in high-paying, secure jobs for many journalists but profits had not caught up to where they were decades ago.
“Those investments are possible because of the great care we’ve taken as a company over the last decade to work our way back to economic growth in a radically transforming industry. We’ve done so by making financial decisions that are sustainable not just in the moment but for years to come,” she added.
Get the latest reports & analysis with people's perspective on Protests, movements & deep analytical videos, discussions of the current affairs in your Telegram app. Subscribe to NewsClick's Telegram channel & get Real-Time updates on stories, as they get published on our website.