Unionized HarperCollins Employees Are Back to Work After a 3-Month Strike

Unionized HarperCollins workers returned to work on Tuesday, in many cases opening their inboxes and corresponding with their supervisors for the first time since walking out three months ago.

For many of the more than 250 unionized employees, the agreement ratified on Feb. 16 between their union, Local 2110 of the U.A.W., and the publisher was a victory: It included a raise and some guaranteed overtime for the employees at the lower end of the wage scale.

“We are very proud of the settlement,” said Olga Brudastova, the president of Local 2110 of the U.A.W., whose members include HarperCollins employees in editorial, publicity, sales, legal, design and marketing. HarperCollins has been part of the union for 80 years. “We covered a lot of ground.”

The base salary rose to $47,500 upon the contract’s ratification and will reach $48,500 in 2024 and $50,000 in 2025, from $45,000. The company will also make a lump-sum payment of $1,500 to its full-time union members. The new contract allows HarperCollins employees who make less than $60,000 to file for two hours per week in overtime pay without needing management approval.

According to the agreement, unionized workers are free to work remotely until July, when they will have to be back in the office on the same terms as nonunion employees.

The publisher, one of the five largest in the country, said in a statement it was pleased the agreement had been ratified, and that it was excited to move forward.

After working without a contract since April 2022, union members went on strike in November, demanding not only higher compensation but also a stronger commitment to diversity and union rights. For months, assistant editors, associate editors and others marched, carried picket signs and chanted outside the publisher’s offices, getting through inclement weather by stuffing their gloves with hand-warming packets and taking breaks in the nearby Oculus to warm up.

During the labor action, affected employees received $400 a week in strike pay from their union, which some supplemented with emergency fund withdrawals.

Rachel Kambury, a picket captain and an associate editor at the publisher, said that almost seven years into her career, she was making $13 an hour after deductions. Her initial reaction to the agreement, Kambury said, was one “of frustration and anger,” because one of the biggest demands — a $50,000 minimum salary — was not met.

But when she read through all the bullet-point detail, she said, “I sat back and was like, ‘This is incredible.’”

Among the aspects that impressed her, she said, were the overtime pay without manager approval, which she described as a break from industry norms, and measures such as compensating junior-level staff for taking on diversity and inclusion work, which typically went unpaid.

The contract “marks an inflection point in our industry,” she said. “This is about changing something for everyone, present and future.”

Publishing has long been a notoriously low-paying industry. It requires highly educated junior and midlevel staffers to work long hours, often doing the bulk of their reading after work, for relatively meager salaries while living in New York City, one of the most expensive housing markets in the country.

“Working in publishing is a lifestyle commitment,” said Molly McGhee, who had been an assistant editor with Tor/Forge Books, and left in 2022. After 10 years in the business, she found that the low pay and work demands typical of the industry were not tenable. “There’s so much work outside of work.”

In recent years, there has been increasing pressure on publishers to raise starting salaries, in part to help diversify the industry. Many in publishing say it can be difficult to live on those starting salaries without financial support from family, barring the entry of those who can’t count on outside financial help.

Macmillan, another large publisher, announced this month that it would increase its entry-level base salary to $47,500, from $42,000. Hachette Book Group said it would raise entry-level salaries for employees living in New York City and expensive markets to $47,500 a year, from $45,000.

Sumber: www.nytimes.com