Hundreds of New York Times journalists defiantly refused to work Thursday — the largest journalist-led work action at the country’s leading newspaper in more than 40 years.
The 24-hour New York Times Guild strike highlighted the growing frustration of writers, editors, online producers, security guards and other employees at the slow pace of negotiations for a new contract. The last editorial deal expired in March 2021, and guild leaders said this week that “the company’s failure to negotiate in good faith” prompted their strike.
“We are deeply committed to the newspaper’s success… [But] today, for the first time in decades, we are fulfilling that mission in a different way,” The Times Guild and its local NewsGuild of New York said in a letter to readers.
However, Times management denied slowly moving forward with a deal to cover 1,450 Guild newsroom members.
“It’s disappointing that they are taking such drastic action given the clear commitment we have shown to broker a deal that offers Times journalists substantial pay increases, market-leading benefits and flexible working arrangements,” New York Times Meredith Kopit Levien, Chief Executive of Co., wrote in a message to employees Wednesday night.
Editor-in-Chief Joseph Kahn wrote in a separate email to the editor: “Strikes usually happen when talks have stalled. We’re not there today.”
Negotiations have been going on for 20 months. The New York Times journalists have called for a 10% pay increase upon contract ratification (to compensate workers who worked two years without a pay rise) and 5.5% increases in 2023 and 2024. They have demanded a minimum annual salary of $65,000, citing the high cost of living in New York.
The talks also covered retirement and other benefits, as well as a proposal to phase out the company’s pension plan. Some journalists also wish to continue working from home, as they have done during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tensions at the New York Times echo nationwide.
Members of the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh are in their seventh week of a strike against the Post-Gazette. The group went on strike in early October after rejecting a management-imposed new health insurance plan for employees. Journalists at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in Texas, part of a chain owned by hedge fund Chatham Asset Management, went on strike last month.
Workers at Starbucks and Amazon have also attempted to form unions.
The Times union announced a week ago its intention to strike to give managers time to stockpile stories and adjust production schedules. The print shop staff continued to work, which enabled the printed output to be delivered without interruption.
“We will produce a solid report on Thursday,” Kahn said in an email to employees. “But it will be harder than usual.”
Not all Times journalists participated in the strike. The newsroom has more than 1,800 employees and more than 1,100 signed resignations. International reporters are largely not covered by the contract.
And prominent Washington reporters detailed the prisoner swap with Russia that freed basketball star Brittney Griner. Tech writers have detailed the Federal Trade Commission’s lawsuit to block Microsoft’s proposed purchase of video game company Activision.
Susan DeCarava, president of the NewsGuild of New York, which includes the Times Guild, did not have an exact number of journalists attending. The Times declined to give a number. DeCarava said she received pledges that at least 80 percent of members supported the campaign. Employees sent photos of a largely empty Times office from their cellphones, she said.
More than 150 union members and supporters crowded outside the Times headquarters at Eighth Avenue and 40th Street in Manhattan during a rally Thursday afternoon.
Photographers and union members hung from the steel scaffolding in front of the building for a better view. A giant inflatable growling rat – a mascot at union drives in New York and other cities – stood by the lectern. His name: Scabby.
Nikole Hannah-Jones, author of The 1619 Project and one of the country’s greatest journalists, spoke to stars.
“I was a worker who couldn’t afford to pay my bills on a newspaper salary,” Hannah-Jones said in an interview. “I know how difficult it is for so many of my colleagues here who may be intimidated to speak out. That’s why it was important to me to show solidarity and stand up for my colleagues.”
After almost an hour of remarks, staff marched with signs and were led by a small drum group in solidarity chants.
The last significant walkout by New York Times journalists was a 24-day strike in 1965. In 1978, press officials went on strike for 88 days. Three years later, the Newsroom Guild went on strike for about six hours.
Thursday’s job promotion comes amid an expansion of NewsGuild, part of Communications Workers of America. It has grown steadily since journalists at the Los Angeles Times voted to create the publication’s first newsroom union in theirs in early 2018 140 year history.
Union activity has intensified as younger journalists take up leadership roles and are not afraid to challenge their bosses on pay and work-life balance issues. The trend follows years of financial hardship.
Newspapers have seen a dramatic drop in ad revenue as readers migrate to Facebook, Twitter and TikTok.
The shift has created “news deserts” in many local communities, a drought that has accelerated during the pandemic. Papers are wilted or folded, some days with reduced circulation. Journalists who are still working have worked longer hours and completed more assignments to compensate for colleagues who have been fired or made takeovers.
“Low wages, hostile working conditions and a bleeding industry have brought journalists to the brink,” the Fort Worth union said in its strike announcement.
The New York Times is among the financially wealthiest in the world. It is widely viewed as a model for the transition from a daily print edition to a living online report. The New York Times Co. ended the most recent fiscal quarter with more than 9 million paid subscribers and growing revenue.
It reported total revenue for the third quarter of $547.7 million, up 7.6% from the same period last year.
The company is expanding. That year, the company paid $550 million in cash to acquire The Athletic, the sports news site. It bought the online word puzzle Wordle. On Thursday, striking journalists urged readers to forgo their daily wordle fix.
At the rally, speakers highlighted how The New York Times Company touted its success to Wall Street and investors, increased its dividend for shareholders and announced a $150 million share buyback program. Nevertheless, the editorial staff has not received a salary increase for two years.
The company is “on track to at least $320 million in annual operating income,” the guild noted in its letter.
“We know what we did for the New York Times to keep our paper afloat and make it truly profitable, and our top executives are getting huge compensation that’s increased huge percentage points over the last year, and they’re winning . We shouldn’t be giving trench workers a 10 percent raise,” said Nancy Wartik, who works in the Times’ public relations department.
The Times’ Kopit Levien credited the company’s success but said 40% of revenue still comes from print.
“We are successful in many ways, but our transformation is not yet complete,” said Kopit Levien. “Our profits have yet to catch up to where they were a few decades ago. And we continue to compete fiercely for subscribers and advertisers in a highly dynamic digital environment – now against a backdrop of mounting economic pressures and uncertainties.”
Meanwhile, arch-rival Wall Street Journal, owned by Rupert Murdoch, dropped its paywall and allowed consumers to read its stories for free for a day.
Battaglio reported from New York and James from Los Angeles.
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/business/story/2022-12-08/new-york-times-journalist-union-bargaining-24-hour-walkout-print-media-labor-disputes After stalled talks, New York Times journalists go on strike