Unionized employees at HarperCollins Publishers in New York began a work stoppage Thursday, walking out after seven months of working without a contract and nearly a year of negotiations for fair pay and benefits.
Workers from the prestigious publishing company’s editorial, publicity, design, legal, and other departments are represented by Local 2110 of the UAW. The strike that began Thursday is set to go on for “as long as it takes” until executives meet the employees’ demands, associate editor Stephanie Guerdan told The Guardian on Thursday.
“This is our backed-into-a-corner, last-ditch-attempt to end a management-imposed stalemate.”
“After about a week, the company is really going to feel the loss of all our essential labor,” she said. “I’ve talked to friends who are not in the union, and their assessment of it has been, ‘I don’t think the company knows what’s going to hit them.'”
More than 95% of the company’s unionized workers voted last month to authorize the strike after negotiations stalled. In July, the workers held a one-day strike.
The employees are calling for the company to address its lack of diversity among the workforce and to provide better paid leave benefits and higher pay, which would enable them to afford to live where they work in New York City—one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. According to the union, the current starting salary at HarperCollins is $45,000 and the average salary is $55,000. The company reported record profits in 2021, according to The Guardian, and is owned by NewsCorp.
“Publishing has been deeply unwell for a while now,” tweeted Rachel Kambury, an editor. “Years, if we’re being honest with ourselves. For generations, the work of publishing has been a privilege for a select few: the well-educated, well-connected, comfortable few.”
People who, without financial concerns to burden them, have moved up through their careers on the winds of inherited wealth, family support, and/or a high-income spouse.— Rachel Kambury is on strike ✊ (@rkambury) November 10, 2022
In an Instagram post this week, the HarperCollins union annotated a letter the company sent to employees, claiming they are paid competitive salaries.
“They’re not competitive,” said the union. “HarperCollins pays $52,000 for the same job Penguin Random House offers a minimum of $65,000 for.”
Organizers expressed hope that the strike will be the first step toward a sea change in the publishing business, which has long been known for low pay, long hours, and an overwhelmingly white workforce.
“This is bigger than our paychecks, this is about trying to make change in an industry that we think is broken,” Laura Harshberger, a senior production editor and the chair of the HarperCollins Union, told The New York Times. “This fight has really been focused on trying to make publishing a more diverse and equitable place that reflects our values and the books that we make.”
A number of authors have expressed support for the union, including Lauren Groff, Alexander Chee, and Daniel José Older.
The union called on book reviewers to hold reviews and other content related to HarperCollins books, freelancers to decline new contracts with the company, and authors and literary agents to refrain from sending submissions to the company until the workers have a fair contract.
“A strike isn’t something any of us union members are choosing to do lightly,” said Kambury. “This is our backed-into-a-corner, last-ditch-attempt to end a management-imposed stalemate and reach a deal that is meaningfully beneficial to the lowest paid and most overworked employees, most of whom are women, many of whom are women of color, LGBTQIA+, disabled, or otherwise underrepresented in (and disproportionately impacted by) this industry.”
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