More than a hundred employees at three Condé Nast publications are prepared to go on strike—if necessary—over disputes with the company over issues including pay, company culture, and overtime compensation.
Employee members of staff unions at The New Yorker, music and arts site Pitchfork, and technology and culture outlet Ars Technica voted this week overwhelmingly in favor of moving ahead with a strike if Condé continues to rebuff demands about key issues, primarily around proposed wage increases. Staffers at the three publications also announced on Friday that they will hold a rally Saturday at the company’s offices at One World Trade Center to protest “low stagnant pay” and build public support for a potential strike.
“People are ready to exercise their power,” said Natalie Meade, a New Yorker fact-checker and contributor who chairs the editorial union, in a brief phone call. “This is a strike authorization vote, but we don’t want to go out on strike. It’s up to the company to decide whether that happens because the quality of their proposals dictates whether we actually move to strike.”
Over the past several years, multiple Condé Nast publications have unionized with the New York chapter of the NewsGuild, a union representing staffers at a number of media outlets including The New York Times, New York magazine, and The Daily Beast. The trio of Condé publications threatening to strike have each separately been involved in years-long bargaining negotiations with the parent company’s management to establish first-time union contracts.
In a statement on Friday to The Daily Beast, a Condé Nast spokesperson said the company has already proposed salary increases, particularly for the lowest-paid employees in the unions. “Over the course of negotiations, The New Yorker, Pitchfork, Ars Technica, and their respective unions have reached agreement on issues ranging from Just Cause to additional paid time off to training and professional development,” the spokesperson wrote. “On wages and economics, management has proposed giving raises to everyone in these bargaining units; increasing minimum salaries for entry-level employees by nearly 20%; and providing guaranteed annual raises for all members, among other enhancements. All of this has been accomplished in just two rounds of bargaining, as we first received the unions’ economic proposals at the end of last year. We look forward to seeing this process through at the bargaining table.”
But the glacial pace of negotiations has frustrated staff, who believe the company has been in no hurry to establish contracts with the unions.
The New Yorker’s union, a collection of 100 employees including many web producers, fact-checkers, and other editorial staff (though not the magazine’s staff writers), has entered its third year of bargaining for its contract in which they say managers have taken months to answer proposals. Talks between management and staff at Pitchfork and Ars Technica have each separately dragged on for more than a year.
“We came to this point where we can only hear ‘We’re working on it’ so many times before we think we need to do something to press them so that they know we’re taking this seriously,” Pitchfork features editor Ryan Dombal told The Daily Beast. “And we all thought that that time had come.”
The primary sticking points at each of the publications revolve primarily around salaries and annual wage increases. Dombal said that Condé Nast had balked at annual raise increases, noting that some employees at the publication were now making less, with inflation, than they made several years ago. Staffers at The New Yorker say the publication has rebuffed requests to raise base employee salaries to $65,000 per year, proposing instead to raise the salary floor to $50,000 from its current rate at $42,000.
“To live in the city on a $45,000 salary, you need many roommates, you need to supplement your income,” Meade said in response to their first counter. “It’s hard to make a living.”
Over the past year, unionized employees have been steadily escalating public criticism of their parent company.
Earlier this year, The New Yorker union staged a daylong walkout over the company’s minimum salary proposals. And last year both Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pulled out of high-profile speaking spots at the annual New Yorker Festival after unionized staffers announced they would protest the event amid a union push to include a provision in its contract requiring Condé to demonstrate “just cause” before firing an employee.
And in September, Pitchfork staffers also staged a brief work stoppage over the company’s decision to lay off senior editor Stacey Anderson, the then-leader of the music outlet’s editorial union (the company said at the time the employee union had not put forward a plan that would “achieve the necessary cost savings,” and the layoffs were “a response to legitimate business conditions, disclosed to you in good faith”).
Friday’s strike threat is just the latest in a series of public spats that have roiled the legacy magazine publisher over the past year.
The company’s treatment of nonwhite staffers came under scrutiny last year after Bon Appétit’s then-editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport resigned following backlash to an old photo in which he donned brownface. Several Black employees at the food magazine subsequently quit, claiming that they were paid less than many of their white coworkers. And just days before she was set to become the new editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue, political reporter Alexi McCammond announced she would no longer take the top job following staff concerns about her decade-old tweets mocking Asians.