The Wirecutter union is fed up.
After nearly two years of contract negotiations with the management of the product review and recommendation site and its parent company The New York Times Company, Wirecutter’s 67-member union threatened earlier this week to pull out – virtually – Of the site’s largest period of the year: Black Friday.
“We didn’t think we had to do it because we thought we would be done before it happened,” said Sarah Kobos, photo editor at Wirecutter and acting vice-chair of the Wirecutter Union bargaining committee, a subsidiary of Wirecutter. the New York NewsGuild. “It seems like action is the only way to get them to the table, in a timely manner.”
The union has chosen to act now, increasingly worried that a contract will not be signed by the end of the year. The three unions that represent Wirecutter, The New York Times and Times tech workers also plan to hold a rally outside The Times headquarters on Nov. 16 at noon ET, Kobos said. The New York Times Guild is also in collective bargaining with management over its contract, and the Times Tech Guild has yet to be voluntarily recognized by the company.
According to Kobos, there is only one negotiation session scheduled between Wirecutter Union and management for the remainder of the year, on November 17. Of the 67 union members in total – who are non-management editorial workers – 61 agreed to strike on Monday evening. unless management accepts a “fair contract”. Wirecutter employees work remotely, so it would be a digital walkout where members refuse to work.
“We look forward to continuing to work towards an agreement with the Wirecutter Union as part of our standard process at the negotiating table,” said Danielle Rhoades Ha, vice president of communications at The New York Times Company.
Wirecutter Union also urged its readers not to purchase through Wirecutter from Black Friday to Cyber Monday if a deal with management is not reached. The union created a pledge that readers can sign to say “they will not cross the picket line”. Kobos declined to say how many had already signed.
The union uses the shopping vacations as leverage, Kobos said. The time between Black Friday and Cyber Monday represents Wirecutter’s “busiest days”, Kobos said. Last year, the site had more than one million readers each of the five days from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday, she said. Black Friday is two and a half weeks away, which is “enough time to work together and do marathon negotiations and come to an agreement,” Kobos said. “I hope that will happen. I am quite optimistic that this will be the case. It is not only a very important time for us, but by far our busiest and most profitable time of the year.
Purchased by The New York Times Company in 2016, Wirecutter generates revenue through affiliate sales and subscriptions. Wirecutter launched a paywall in September. According to the Times third quarter earnings report released on November 3, in its first month with a paywall, Wirecutter had 10,000 subscribers.
Dan Kennedy, professor of journalism at Northeastern University, said the union “is maximizing its influence by threatening labor action scheduled to take advantage of the holiday shopping season.” The New York Times Company “is profitable and growing. Its employees have every right to demand a fair share of this success, ”he added.
In the third quarter of 2021, The New York Times reported operating income of $ 49.0 million after revenue growth of 19% to $ 509.1 million. The media company’s subscription business was particularly strong, adding 455,000 new subscribers, including 135,000 who signed up for its non-news products, including Wirecutter. “This is our best third quarter performance in terms of net subscription additions and total net subscriptions since the digital paid model launched over a decade ago, and, outside of 2020, our best quarter for digital subscription additions, “said Times chairman and CEO Meredith Kopit Levien said in the company’s income statement.
At the heart of the union’s desires is a minimum wage and a guaranteed wage increase. Union members and non-union employees of Wirecutter receive annual merit-based increases, but currently do not receive a guaranteed salary increase, according to the Times.
- The Times leadership has so far offered to make Wirecutter union members eligible for a pay rise of up to 2.75%, including the guaranteed 0.5% pay rise, sources say. the company familiar with the negotiations.
- Employees would be eligible for an additional merit increase based on performance, as well as a bonus.
- The total increases paid to all employees will be capped at 2.75%.
- The management proposal calls for increases in minimum wages for employees at the bottom of its pay scale, according to the Times, which did not elaborate.
- Wirecutter employees were eligible for a 3.2% salary increase in 2020 and a 3% salary increase in 2021, the company said.
The conditions offered by the company are insufficient, according to the Wirecutter union. The group said the median salary of its members was $ 43,000 less than that of members of the New York Times Guild. Wirecutter Union’s last negotiation session with management took place on October 21, according to Kobos.
The compensation proposal is “more generous” than what the Wirecutter union has described and “seeks to maintain a similar compensation structure for Wirecutter employees with programs in place for others at The Times Company,” said Rhoades Ha , which did not specify what these programs were.
Nicole Cohen, associate professor at the Institute of Communication, Culture, Information, and Technology at the University of Toronto Mississauga and co-author of the book “New Media Unions: Organizing Digital Journalists”, was not surprised that the union de Wirecutter was “pushed to this point.”
“Two years is a long time to negotiate a contract,” she said. “What they are asking for is not unreasonable. These are basic standards that media workers across the industry have negotiated into their contracts over the past five years, especially for a very large and wealthy outlet like the New York Times. She pointed to other digital outlets that have staged walkouts, such as Sensational in 2018 and Vox in 2019. The Union of New Yorkers avoided a strike in June.
“Nobody really wants to go out. We want to get down to the table and get there, ”Kobos said.