In an effort to minimize the financial impact of unionized staffers at Wirecutter striking on Black Friday, The New York Times has attempted to recruit “scab” labor to work the ecommerce website for the lucrative shopping weekend, The Daily Beast has learned.
Times management and the union representing staffers at the paper’s product review page have been deadlocked for nearly two years in negotiating an initial collective bargaining agreement. In an effort to ramp up pressure on Times brass, the Wirecutter union this week announced a strike for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and urged readers to not purchase products through their site, striking at a source of revenue for the paper.
In response, two people familiar with the matter confirmed to The Daily Beast, the Times has begun recruiting “casual employees” to fill the void created by the multi-day strike, which begins at midnight heading into Thanksgiving. These staffers are not part of the fledgling Wirecutter union but do take on shifts at the e-commerce site when needed.
Employees who do fill in for the striking staffers will likely be tasked with giving the website the appearance of being fully staffed during the historically busy shopping weekend. Of greatest urgency to management are positions manning Wirecutter’s social-media presence and back-end technical slots, sources told The Daily Beast.
“The New York Times is treating workers like they're expendable and engaging in exactly the kind of worker exploitation they have condemned at other companies,” Wirecutter senior photo editor and interim vice-chair of the union Sarah Kobos told The Daily Beast. “We’re appalled that the Times is relying on our non-union colleagues at the Times to work overtime during a holiday weekend rather than sitting down at the table with us and hammering out a contract once and for all.”
In a statement to The Daily Beast, a New York Times spokesperson vehemently rejected any notion that they were bringing in “scab” labor. “All of the casual employees were scheduled to work during this period before the strike was announced,” the spokesperson wrote. “And for your reference, casual employees work regular hours across the company. Your characterization is inaccurate.”
Wirecutter union’s extended strike over the long weekend threatens to hit the Times in its wallet. (Disclosure: This story’s reporters are members of the NewsGuild, the union that represents Wirecutter and The New York Times.) Black Friday and Cyber Monday have historically been of vital importance to the site, which generates revenue for the newspaper by directing traffic to various products with a revenue-sharing deal on resulting sales.
“While a strike during Cyber Week is concerning, we don’t believe it will meaningfully harm the business and we are prepared to serve our readers,” the Times said in its statement.
Union organizers hope that recruited “scabs,” while not being card-carrying union members, will join the proverbial picket line as an ongoing stalemate with the paper’s management continues. As an incentive, the union plans to assist these staffers with any financial costs they might incur by joining the strike, creating a GoFundMe fundraiser to supplement the potential scabs’ wages.
Wirecutter union chair Nick Guy wrote on the fundraising page that he will be “collecting these funds, and then distributing them directly to our unit members who opt-in.” He added: “The funds will be used to replace lost income during our strike. I will not be taking any disbursement from these funds.”
By Wednesday evening, at least two of the potential “scabs” had been convinced to join the strike, according to one person familiar with the matter.
This latest battle between the Wirecutter union and Times management is just the latest chapter in the e-commerce site’s quest to complete its first labor deal. A key point of contention reportedly remains the union’s demands for a minimum salary and guaranteed annual raises.
“The New York Times has a long history of productive relationships with unions to advance our shared objectives,” the paper said in its statement. “We’re actively working with the Wirecutter Union to reach a collective bargaining agreement that continues to reward our employees for their work and contributions to The Times’s success, and we look forward to continuing those negotiations at the bargaining table in early December.”
“What we are asking for is beyond reasonable,” maintained Kobos, the Wirecutter photo editor and union vice chair. “Management's proposals are far below inflation and what our competitors offer, which is why we are hemorrhaging talent. My colleagues are some of the most dedicated and knowledgeable people I've ever worked with. We love our jobs and are disappointed we have to walk out, but we know what we're worth.”