For the first time in decades, more than 1,100 unionized New York Times employees walked off the job Thursday after they failed to reach an agreement on a new contract with the company.
The strike is set to last 24 hours and will cause some desks to lose 90% of their workforce, according to the New York Times Guild. The union, which includes more than 1,400 members, represents Times journalists, business staff and security guards. This is the first work stoppage of this scale since 1981.
The New York Times Guild informed management last week that they were prepared to walk out if they did not reach a deal on a new contract. The union’s last contract expired in March 2021, and negotiations for a new one have been acrimonious. Many important issues remain undecided, including policies about wages, benefits and remote work.
The union is asking for a $65,000 salary floor, a 10% raise upon ratification of the contract and 5.5% raises in 2023 and 2024. The company has countered with a $60,000 minimum salary (increasing to $62,500 in 2024), a 5.5% raise upon ratification and 3% annual raises. Another point of disagreement is the size of retroactive bonuses meant to cover the period after the previous contract expired.
“Management continues to refuse the $65K salary floor proposed by the Times Guild and their wage proposal still fails to meet the economic moment, lagging far behind both inflation and the average rate of wage gains in the U.S,” the union wrote in a press release Wednesday night.
Journalists at the Times say that after years of lackluster raises, they deserve a share of the company’s current success. At a time when many news organizations are announcing cuts and layoffs, the Times is doing remarkably well. Company executives told shareholders last month that they expect the Times to be profitable at the end of the year even after making several high-value — and high-profile — acquisitions. In January, the Times bought sports website The Athletic for $550 million and the viral puzzle game Wordle for an undisclosed seven-figure amount.
CEO Meredith Kopit Levien wrote in a note to staff Wednesday that 40% of the company’s revenue comes from print, which is declining, and that profits still have not caught up to levels from a couple of decades ago.
“The NewsGuild’s proposal, which would add more than $100 million in additional costs over the life of the contract, would make it difficult to sustain our investment in journalism,” spokesperson Danielle Rhoades Ha wrote in an emailed statement.
Return-to-office policies have also been a sticking point. The Times’ repeated efforts to get employees back to the office have been met with widespread resistance. More than 800 employees committed to working remotely for a week after the company offered branded lunch boxes in September as a return-to-office perk.
In an effort to avert the strike, both sides met for bargaining on Tuesday and Wednesday, which led to some progress. The Times agreed to keep its pension plan in place and expanded fertility treatment benefits.
However, the company ended negotiations Wednesday evening when they received notification from union members that the strike would proceed. The NewsGuild said those notifications were from members who “did the responsible thing” and let their managers know they would honor the walkout if it happened.
In notes to employees, company executives wrote that they were disappointed that the union had decided to strike since progress was still being made at the bargaining table.
“Strikes typically happen when talks deadlock. That is not where we are today,” executive editor Joe Kahn wrote to newsroom staff Wednesday night. “While the company and the NewsGuild remain apart on a number of issues, we continue to trade proposals and make progress toward an agreement.”
Managers at the Times have spent the past week preparing for the strike, Vanity Fair reported. Measures included asking staff to do advance work and file stories early and making plans to use wire stories to fill pages.
Nonunion employees — which include managers and international journalists — will be responsible for covering the news Thursday. Of the more than 1,800 newsroom employees at The Times, roughly 1,270 are in the union. Some notable union members, including White House correspondents Peter Baker and Michael Shear, plan to work Thursday, Semafor reported.
The union hosted an in-person rally Thursday afternoon outside of The New York Times building in Manhattan. Times tech workers — who are also unionized but are not participating in the walkout — took a collective lunch break to support their striking colleagues.
At the demonstration, workers chanted, “Hey Gray Lady, time to pay me!” and “Hey A.G., I’ve got a hunch, boss. Give us wages, not a lunch box!” before union leaders took to the podium.
“Workers are the heart of the New York Times,” said Nikole Hannah-Jones, a Pulitzer Prize-winning magazine writer who serves on the unit council. “We are here because we know the New York Times is nothing without its guild, and every last one of us deserves to earn a livable wage and to receive the benefits that we deserve.”
As part of their work stoppage, the union is asking readers to avoid clicking on Times links, using the company’s apps or playing its puzzles and games.
The Times walkout takes place against a backdrop of other labor disputes in the media industry. As of Thursday morning, unionized journalists at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram were both on strike. Staff at Reuters and several Gannett papers are also preparing for strikes in the event that negotiations for their respective contracts stall.
The union representing all of these workers, the NewsGuild, has increasingly made strikes and strike threats a part of its strategy for securing contracts. Just last year, editorial staff at Wirecutter — The New York Times’ product review site — staged a four-day strike from Black Friday through Cyber Monday. Two weeks later, the Wirecutter Union announced it had reached a deal with the company.
Strikes by the New York Times Guild are much rarer. In 2017, journalists held a 20-minute walkout to protest cuts to the copy desk. In 1981, the Guild stopped work for 6.5 hours. The last time the Guild held a multi-day strike was in 1965.