New York Times journalists in mass strike for first time in 40 years. Source: The Guardian

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New York Times journalists in mass strike for first time in 40 years

Members of NewsGuild of New York say they are stopping work in protest at management’s failure to reach deal on new contract

Striking New York Times workers outside the newspaper’s headquarters in midtown Manhattan on Thursday.

Striking New York Times workers outside the newspaper’s headquarters in midtown Manhattan on Thursday. Photograph: Julia Nikhinson/AP

Erum Salam in New York and agencies

Thu 8 Dec 2022 20.36 GMTFirst published on Thu 8 Dec 2022 12.32 GMT

A large crowd filled with hundreds of journalists and media professionals, many dressed in red, gathered outside the New York Times headquarters on Thursday afternoon, as part of an employee walkout that demanded a higher living wage.

It’s something that hasn’t happened at the famous newspaper in four decades: a union strike that stopped the reporting process and shut down the newsroom.

Crowds watch characters parade at Magic Kingdom in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

The strike comes amid frustrations that bargaining has dragged on since the contract of employees in the NewsGuild union expired in March 2021. Last week, the union announced that over 1,1000 employees would stage a 24-hour work stoppage starting just after midnight on Thursday until management struck a deal on the employees’ contracts.

For a busy news day that saw the release of Brittney Griner from a Russian penal colony via a prisoner swap and the imminent passage of a new law that protects same-sex marriage, it’s tough for journalists to stomach stepping away from the keyboard to pick up a picket sign.

Outside the HQ, which is near Times Square in Manhattan, picket signs that read: “New York Times Walks Out” flooded the street. Supporters of the paper refused to cross the digital picket line and were also opting out of reading its content or playing Wordle for the day.

Reporters from other news outlets covered the event. Commercial trucks slowed down to honk, with some drivers raising a fist out of the window and nodding in solidarity of the union members on strike. Tourists stopped to look on at the unusual scene of journalists banging on drums and chanting in unison: ‘We got the power …union power’.

Members of the larger parent union, the Communications Workers Association (CWA) also showed up in support of the strikers.

Nick Confessore, a political correspondent on the paper’s national desk, told the Guardian being on strike felt like being “in mourning”.

“Our job is to cover the story,” he said. “Today, I’m stepping back from my keyboard, because I feel that in order to build a New York Times that can serve our readers best in the future, we need a better deal with the people who are here.”

He added: “We want a deal. We all have things we’d rather be doing.”

A major point of conflict in negotiations is a wage increase that averages out to 2.875%, far less than the 5% average increase the union has asked for.

Union members including Dana Goldstein, a domestic correspondent who has been with the company for six years, said the offered wage increase was “discouraging”, particularly at a time when layoffs are sweeping the news industry and the US economy is being battered by inflation.

Goldstein said: “The raises they are offering [amount] to less than a 3% annual raise over the course of this contract. In this economic climate, and given the really, very wonderful profits that the Times is making as a successful company, just a 3% annual raise is not enough for our members.”

Goldstein also expressed disappointment with the salary floor, currently $45,000 a year. The union is asking for at least $65,000.

“That’s not a living wage in New York City, which is the most expensive city in the world,” Goldstein said. “We have members whose landlords have asked for rent increases of $1,000 over the last year.”

Negotiations took place on Tuesday and some of Wednesday but the sides remained far apart on issues including wages and remote-work policies. On Wednesday evening the union said via Twitter a deal had not been reached and the walkout was happening. “We were ready to work for as long as it took to reach a fair deal,” it said, “but management walked away from the table with five hours to go”.

“We know what we’re worth,” the union added.

On Thursday the NewsGuild tweeted that workers were “now officially on work stoppage… It’s never an easy decision to refuse to do work you love, but our members are willing to do what it takes to win a better newsroom for all”.

A Times spokesperson, Danielle Rhoades Ha, said the company was still in negotiations when they were told that the strike was happening. “It is disappointing that they are taking such an extreme action when we are not at an impasse,” she said.

Strike supporters include members of the live news desk, which covers breaking news.

Rhoades Ha told the Associated Press the company had “solid plans in place” to continue producing content, including relying on international reporters and other journalists who are not union members.

In a note to guild-represented staff, the deputy managing editor, Cliff Levy, called the planned strike “puzzling” and “an unsettling moment in negotiations over a new contract”. He said it would be the first strike by the bargaining unit since 1981 and “comes despite intensifying efforts by the company to make progress”.

But in a letter signed by more than 1,000 employees, the NewsGuild said management had been “dragging its feet” for nearly two years and “time is running out to reach a fair contract” by the end of the year.

The NewsGuild also said the company told employees planning to strike they would not get paid during the walkout. Members were asked to work extra hours to get work done ahead of the strike, according to the union.

The Times has seen other, shorter walkouts in recent years, including a half-day protest in August by a new union representing technology workers who claimed unfair labor practices.

In one breakthrough that both sides called significant, the company backed off its proposal to replace the existing adjustable pension plan with an enhanced 401(k) retirement plan. The Times offered instead to let the union choose between the two. The company also agreed to expand fertility treatment benefits.

Levy said the company had offered to raise wages by 5.5% upon ratification of the contract, followed by 3% hikes in 2023 and 2024. That would be an increase from the 2.2% annual increases in the expired contract. The union contends that this would not represent a true 5.5% average annual wage raise.

Stacy Cowley, a finance reporter and union representative, said the union was seeking 10% pay raises at ratification, which she said would make up for raises not received over the past two years.

She also said the union wanted the contract to guarantee employees the option to work remotely some of the time, if their roles allow it, but the company wanted the right to recall workers to the office full time. Cowley said the Times had required staff to be in office three days a week but many had been showing up less often in an informal protest.

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