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National Support for Fighting Times Workers

Tech Guild organizer and data analyst Kathy Zhang [right] helps lead union rally in front of the New York Times building on Nov. 16.
New York, NY – The Old Gray Lady is fast becoming the biggest turkey of #StrikesGiving, 2021 thanks to the collective action three groups of workers fighting for livable wages and union representation at the New York Times is serving up to  management this month.

Times management has refused since April to recognize what will become the largest tech workers union in the nation — the Times Tech Guild. But those efforts to thwart the Tech Guild are becoming increasingly untenable as workers at Wirecutter, the news outlet’s popular consumer product review site, also prepare to strike on Black Friday for better wages, and other members of the New York Times Guild increasingly agitate for a long sought new contract.

“[The Times] doesn’t live up to the words of their editorial board, and they are doing this because they are afraid of what it would be like for workers to be standing in solidarity together,” data analyst and Times Tech Guild organizer Kathy Zhang told me at a union rally outside the Times’ building on Nov. 16. “If you add up all three of our units I think we are about 2,000 people. That’s a really big workforce and we could make a lot of change here and really push for some substantial improvements in the workplace.”

While the New York Times reportedly sitting on more than a billion dollars in the bank, the 67 employees who work at Wirecutter say that they are struggling just to make ends meet. They insist that a mere $300,000 — or 0.029-percent of that more than a billion dollar heap would be enough to raise the salary floor for everybody at Wirecutter.

“I love my team and the people I work with, but compared to our competitors and compared to other people in other departments at the Times, we make considerably less,” Sarah Kobos, senior photo editor and interim vice-chair of the Wirecutter Union’s bargaining unit, told me.  “I’m one of the lucky ones, but we have some people working second jobs, doing extra freelance work, trying to get subsidized housing and things like that. We’re just trying to bring up people’s standards. [Times management] is offering yearly increase that are way below inflation — so, we’d be actually be seeing decreases in wages.”

According to Kobos, Times management has credited Wirecutter employees for helping to offset losses sustained earlier in the pandemic and bringing in 10,000 new subscribers in the first month the product review site was put behind a paywall.

“We’ve been bargaining for two years now and it keeps getting dragged out,” she added.

Susan DeCarava, head of the NewsGuild of New York, charges Times management with slow-walking contract negotiations and engaging in months of egregious union-busting tactics across the board, and says it’s long past time for the Old Gray Lady to change her anti-worker ways.

“The time has come to tell the Times management that they need to change with the times,” DeCarava said at the rally. “You all are telling them what the future looks like and they just need to get with the program. The times of keeping workers in the dark — guess what? It’s over.”

The Tech Guild’s bargaining unit reportedly stands at some 600 workers strong. But members say that Times management is trying to do everything that it possibly can to slash that number in half.

“Their argument is that engineers only should be allowed in the tech unit,” Zhang says. “That would mean that a data analyst like me — and I’ve been working at the Times for six years — would be disenfranchised and wouldn’t be able to vote in this election. What they want to do is force us to have five separate elections so that it could waste our time and undermine our solidarity. But we’re not having it.”

A member of the Alphabet Workers Union — the union representing Google employees — expressed solidarity with Times employees and issued a direct warning to management.

“The tech industry is one of the most influential on our economy and our country’s democracy,” the worker who did not wish to be identified told the rally. “But it is also one of the least unionized. The Alphabet Union calls on the Times to respect the right of the Times Tech Guild, the Times Guild and the Wirecutter Union and stop union-busting. The tech industry and the labor movement are all watching you.”

Wirecutter Senior Photo Editor Sarah Kobos addresses this week’s union rally.

Times management insists that it is respecting the rights of employees to organize and bargaining in good faith.

“The New York Times has a long history of productive relationships with unions to advance our shared objectives,” a spokesperson said in an email. “We’re actively working with The New York Times NewsGuild and the Wirecutter Union to put in place collective bargaining agreements that fairly 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.

We support the right of all eligible employees to decide whether or not joining a union is right for them, and we will respect the outcome of the National Labor Relations Board process.”

The unions representing workers at the Times are aligned with the CWA — Communication Workers of America. Tim Dubnau, CWA District 1 Organizer says that pro-union “movement” has, indeed, begun across the country.

“Tech workers have been organizing to join our union in greater and greater numbers,” Dubnau said. “A moment is starting and we can’t wait to welcome the tech workers from the New York Times into our growing union. We have your back always and we support the Guild as they insist on a fair contract at Wirecutter and the Times.”

Zhang’s union siblings have been energized by all of the labor actions taking place across the country during #StrikesGiving and before.

“I have friends in the entertainment industry who are part of IATSE, we know there are people at John Deere, there are health care workers who are really not taking this anymore — not taking this poor treatment —especially, during a time of economic prosperity for a lot of these companies,” Zhang said. “I mean, the fact that the New York Times is sitting on $1 Billion and yet refuses to raise Wirecutter pay to something reasonable to allow their workers to live in New York City and build lives here — that’s really despicable.”

According to Zhang, the company is paying out more money in dividends to their investors then they are offering in terms of wage increases for employees.

Sarah Nelson, influential president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO, did not attend the the Nov. 16 rally, but sent a statement expressing her support for Times workers.

“Whatever happens after today, remember this: The strike is a tactic; solidarity is our power. When I was a brand new flight attendant, my flying partner pulled my aside and said,  ‘Management holds us in contempt. You’re only place of worth is with your flying partners.’ Wear your union pin. And if we stick together, there’s nothing we can’t accomplish.”

 

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