Major news desks at the paper may lose 90 percent of their workforce during a 24-hour strike by more than 1,000 union journalists and other employees, the NewsGuild union says.
Tired of The New York Times “dragging its feet” in contract renewals, around 1,100 union employees have decided to go on strike for a full day, the first such protest seen at the paper in more than 40 years.
After 20 months of negotiations, the Times and its labour union the NewsGuild have failed to reach a deal on fresh contracts due to disagreements over a number of issues, particularly wage increases, remote work policy and health care plans.
The latest negotiations lasted for more than 12 hours from Tuesday to Wednesday, but the union claimed “management walked away from the table” without a deal.
The Times has offered to raise worker wages by 5.5 percent at ratification of the contract and then increase yearly by 3 percent instead of the former 2.2 percent. But the union is seeking 10 percent at ratification to make up for the lack of pay raises over the past two years.
“They have stood by stingy wage offers that don’t account for record inflation or reflect the value of our work,” the union said in a statement on Twitter. “We know what our labour is worth.”
The work stoppage will go into effect at midnight local (0500 GMT) on Thursday and last for 24 hours with employees poised to strike outside the Times’ offices at 13:00 pm (1800 GMT).
The union said on Twitter that while the Times “has given us excuses about economic uncertainty”, it has gone on to spend millions of dollars to purchase the Wordle game and allocated $150 million in stock buybacks to its investors.
“A company on track for an annual operating profit of $320 million or more should be paying its employees a minimum of $65,000 a year. The @nytimes thinks this is unreasonable. The @NYTimesGuild does not,” the union tweeted.
This walkout pledge was not a decision we made lightly. But the truth is @nytimes is a blank page without @NYTGuild members. It's time they gave us a contract that reflects our true worth. pic.twitter.com/MTMdockEKK— NYTimesGuild (@NYTimesGuild) December 2, 2022
Another point of contention was that union workers wanted their contract to guarantee remote work options but the Times wanted the right to recall workers to the office full time.
The two sides have been bargaining since the last contract expired in March 2021. During that time, one significant breakthrough was reached when the Times backed off its plan to replace the pension plan with an enhanced 401(k) retirement plan.
Instead, the Times offered to let union workers pick between the two plans and also agreed to expand fertility treatment benefits.
‘Do not cross digital picket lines’
At the planned rally outside the Times office on Thursday, there will also be solidarity speeches by prominent journalists such as Nikole Hannah-Jones.
Union journalists and reporters at the Times took to Twitter this week to share news that they will be participating in the walk-outs such as Frances Robles, Maggie Astor and Jenny Vrentas.
“I'm sorry to share that negotiations with the Times collapsed tonight when the company walked off the table. I along with more than 1,000 of my colleagues will be on a 24-hour walk-out starting tonight at midnight,” Robles tweeted.
“We’re asking readers to stand with us on the digital picket line and not visit any NYT platforms tomorrow. Read local news. Make something from a cookbook. Break your Wordle streak,” Astor tweeted.
Sports reporter Vrentas said they are “standing up together for each other, for a better NYT and for journalists everywhere.”
Politicians and government officials have also brought attention to the cause, such as New York Congressman Jamaal Anthony Bowman who posted a video on Twitter telling the public “do not cross the digital picket line” and to stand with the journalists.
“Let’s stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are walking off the job in protest to make sure they earn the wages they deserve,” Bowman said. “Tell your friends to not consume their news from the New York Times.”
Tonight at midnight, 1,100 workers at @nytimes are going on a 24 hour strike. Here’s what you can do…— Jamaal Bowman Ed.D (@JamaalBowmanNY) December 8, 2022
Do not engage with any of the New York Times platforms. DO NOT CROSS THE DIGITAL PICKET LINE. Get your news from other sources and tell your friends to do the same. @nyguild pic.twitter.com/Eu9Cha4aFg
NYC Comptroller Brad Lander also took to Twitter for a call to action to the public.
“If you’re a NYTimes subscriber like me who is grateful every day for the work of their journalists & staff, please join me in sending a letter to NYT management demanding that they give (union) workers the contract they deserve,” Lander tweeted.
He also posted a screenshot of the Times’ Wordle game featuring the word “solid-arity”.
Preparing for the strike
The Time’s human resources chief, Jacqueline Welch, told staffers on Tuesday morning that employees who participate in the work stoppage “will not be paid by the company for the duration of the strike,” according to a memo seen by CNN.
She added that employees “cannot use vacation or personal days to account for this time” unless it was approved prior to last Friday.
The Times has also been working to find content to fill the paper during the day of work stoppage, including pulling from wires and asking reporters to file stories early, Vanity Fair reports.
Times spokesperson Danielle Rhoades Ha said in a statement that it is “disappointing” the union is “taking such an extreme action” but that the company is prepared “to serve our readers without disruption.”
Non-union workers, including much of the paper’s international staff, are still expected to work that day.
Over the years, the Times has seen smaller walkouts such as a half-day strike in August by a technology union, but all eyes are on this historic protest and how the news organisation’s coverage will be impacted by it.