For its wide circulation and daily, authoritative journalism of current events, the New York Times has been considered the “newspaper of record” for over a hundred years. But on Thursday, Dec. 8, there was a hole in that record — or, at least, a feeble plug.
After 20 months of unsatisfactory contract negotiations with one of the only newspapers that still sees increasing reader subscriptions, Times workers have had enough. As of midnight on Dec. 8, over 1,100 staff made history as they commenced a 24-hour walkout in protest of the Times management’s failure to negotiate a fair contract and meet the demands of their union, the NewsGuild of New York. It is the newsroom’s first walkout of this scale since a multiday strike in September and October of 1965.
“We all just want to do our jobs but we need to show [management] that we know our worth,” said Lauren Leibowitz, who has been a full-time copy editor of the Opinion section since June.
Unit chair of the Times Guild Bill Baker sent a letter signed by over 1,000 employees to the paper’s CEO and publisher on Dec. 2, warning that staff would walk if there was no contract by Dec. 8. The number of strike pledges only increased afterward, and the power of the strike threat was made apparent in negotiations. Management conceded on certain issues, including keeping workers’ pension funds. “[Management] would not have moved as they had if they didn’t have this potential walkout hanging over them,” said Leibowitz.
Despite the initial movement at the bargaining table, the two parties failed to come to an agreement by the end of day Dec. 7, so staff made good on their promise and walked off the job. “We are here to make sure that we are not gonna keep waiting,” business reporter and bargaining committee member Stacy Cowley told TRNN.
While management scrambled to keep the Times platforms running with pre-written and salvaged content, the majority of the staff ceased their work, causing the regular flow of reports, podcasts, live briefings, and more to grind to a halt. Management informed the strikers that their pay would be docked for the day.
Workers called on Times readers to stand in solidarity by breaking their Wordle or crossword streaks and not engaging with any of the company’s platforms during the 24-hour strike. Staff took to Twitter to suggest reading local news and listening to public radio instead of the gray lady, in addition to contributing to the thousands of letters of support already sent to Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger and CEO Meredith Kopit Levien.
New York Congressman Jamaal Bowman chimed in, tweeting a video of himself encouraging readers to not cross the digital picket line, while Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders expressed his support as well. In classic Teamsters fashion, the UPS workers of New York Teamsters Local 804 pledged not to service the paper, while freelancers and organizers with the Freelance Solidarity Project vowed to strike alongside the Times workers.
Just around the corner from the joint Starbucks and Amazon Go store, whose workers recently filed for union election with Workers United, NYT staffers and allies rallied in front of the Times building in midtown Manhattan. Under scaffolding was a sea of red, the color of NewsGuild and Communications Workers of America gear worn by the strikers and their supporters. Cheers erupted at the honks of support from the FedEx and other commercial trucks that slithered down the narrow 40th Street one-way.
Speakers before the distinguished crowd were a who’s who of Times all-stars, New York politicians, and labor leaders: NYC Comptroller Brad Lander; star reporter and Unit Councilmember Nikole Hannah-Jones; sports reporter and NewsGuild Local Chair Jenny Vrentas; Times Editor Tom Coffey; and finance reporter and union negotiator Stacy Cowley; as well as Newsguild-CWA International President Jon Schleuss, NewsGuild of New York President Susan DeCarava, New York AFL-CIO President Mario Cliento, and CWA District 1 Vice President Dennis Trainor.
Software engineer Carrie Price of the Times‘ newly unionized tech workers, who staged a 1-hour lunchout in solidarity with their co-workers, also spoke.
Among a litany of demands, pay raises were top of mind. “I know what it’s like to not be paid enough to pay my bills,” Hannah-Jones told TRNN. “I’m here because it’s important to speak up for our colleagues who are not making what they deserve.”
Times workers have not seen raises since 2020, and management’s wage proposal of 2.875% annual raises across the life of the contract would effectively amount to a wage cut. “Inflation is certainly not helping things,” said Leibowitz in an interview leading up to the walkout. “People are seeing the value of their paychecks erode while the company is expanding at a remarkable clip.”
In addition to higher raises across the board, the union is calling for a $65,000 wage floor for Guild members. Workers who spoke to TRNNare livid that their employer pledged $150 million in stock buybacks and hiked executive pay by 30% while refusing to meet their wage demands. The paper is among the few that are still increasing their paid subscribership, due in large part to the hard work and sacrifice of its staff, and it reported a $36.6 million profit in the third quarter alone.
“The company is extremely profitable now after riding out some really hard times,” Coffey, a 25-year veteran of the Times, told TRNN. “We helped them ride out those hard times by taking paltry raises, doing give-backs on our health insurance, our pension. Now we want our fair share and our demands are not unreasonable.”
“We are not leaving the table till we get a full plate and our fair share,” declared DeCarava.
In an email response to TRNN, Times spokesperson Danielle Rhoades Ha wrote, “We look forward to resuming negotiations. We remain eager to reach a collective bargaining agreement that financially rewards our journalists for their contributions to the success of The Times, is fiscally responsible and continues to take into account the challenging industry landscape.”
Solidarity was felt in abundance at the rally. Sports writer Vrentas shouted out the need to protect the most vulnerable workers at the Times: newsroom fellows, employees with employer-sponsored visas, security guards, and casual and temporary workers. Leibowitz told TRNN that she was a casual worker prior to being hired full time, and emphasized that casual and temporary workers are often misclassified as such and effectively work regular schedules.
Workers are also demanding the Times improve their health care plan, which has been running losses, as well as to adopt fairer job evaluations that reflect values of diversity, equity, and inclusion. A Times Guild data analysis found that management systematically gives Black and Latino workers weaker job ratings than white staffers.
The labor action comes as other NewsGuild newsrooms around the country are also on strike. Workers from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, who just entered their seventh week of striking over illegal cuts to their health care benefits, came out in solidarity. Meanwhile, journalists at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram made history in late November for launching the first open-ended newsroom strike in Texas history. As of publication, their strike is ongoing.
Labor actions of this sort have been few and far between at the Times, but this walkout could be practice for more dramatic actions ahead. Cowley riled the crowd when she declared that a strike authorization vote may be necessary if management continues not to bargain in good faith.
The rallies’ speakers repeated time and again that the contract struggle at the Times is a struggle for the entire media sector, and, further, the whole labor movement. “What it fundamentally comes down to is a resetting of the power structure in our workplaces,” said DeCarava.
“We have more power than we know,” she continued, “and part of the job of organizing and part of what I think the labor movement — and what certainly we at the NewsGuild — have been really invested in is giving our members the tools to recognize that they have that power, and then to use it.”
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