If The New Yorker
's union and management fail to reach an agreement after two and a half years of contract negotiations, production of the country's premier weekly magazine of journalism
and commentary could come to a halt.
The union, which is part of The NewsGuild of New York, has laid out plans for a picket line that would urge readers not to share stories and pressure the magazine's writers not to produce new work or even handle edits on works in progress.
The union represents 120 employees, mostly in editorial and production roles, but it excludes staff writers and other high-profile contributors, who have been assured by the magazine's leadership that they will not be forced to cross a picket line if the union declares one.
That suggests management is confident it can reach an agreement, or that if it cannot, editors may simply halt production on the magazine, which has a circulation of over 1 million, while they bargain during a lengthy work stoppage.
While the union has asked readers not to read or share links in the event of a strike, the union's greater leverage may be in the print product; the union calculated that a magazine known for its fastidiousness could not come close to meeting its own standards without its core staff to assemble the magazine each week.
Closing new issues would almost certainly necessitate scabs performing strikers' duties, as the union includes every fact-checker on staff, and the magazine has its own house
style, which would make filling in for staff copy editors more difficult during a strike.
Gili Ostfield, a magazine production worker and union member, predicted that readers would be disappointed with what arrived in their mailboxes.
“If they put out a magazine without us, it would absolutely be a substandard product,” Ostfield said, adding, “I don’t think it would be something The New Yorker would be proud of, and I think it would be a real stain on The New Yorker’s reputation to publish a magazine during a strike.”
“To be honest, it would be a blot on David Remnick’s reputation,” she added, referring to the magazine’s longtime editor.
Remnick declined to comment on the dispute or whether The New Yorker intends to publish a print magazine while on strike.
Stardia contacted about 20 staff writers and featured contributors to see if they would recognize a picket line, but the majority of them did not respond.
Publishing a magazine during a strike, in my opinion, would be a major blot on The New Yorker's reputation.
Gili Ostfield is a staff writer for the New Yorker.
Hua Hsu, a staff writer, told Stardia that if the magazine continued to publish during a strike, he would comply with the union's demands.
“As a writer, I rely on editors, proofreaders, and so on, so it’s not a difficult decision to support them,” he explained via email.
According to staff writer Jane Mayer
, the editors of the magazine assured them that they would not be pressured to cross.
“As a former union member at a newspaper that went on strike, I know how difficult these situations can be, so instead, I really hope the two sides can avoid a strike and reach a fair deal
at the bargaining table,” Mayer wrote in an email.
Staffers unionized in June 2018 after a string of similar organizing efforts at other publications; unions
typically hope to secure a first contract within a year or year and a half, but negotiations within Condé Nast, the magazine's parent company, have dragged on for 30 months.
The union claims that the company is resisting annual pay raises that would keep up with the cost of living in New York City
, and that the two sides have yet to reach an agreement on layoff protections, limits on after-hours work, and the right to freelance. The union has accused the company of bargaining in bad faith, which Remnick and a spokesperson declined to address.
Ostfield believes the magazine's arrogance contributes to the company's bargaining position.
“Their approach to bargaining has been that The New Yorker is so unique that it should not be subject to the kinds of demands that a union would fight for, such as basic dignity and fair pay in the workplace
,” she explained.
Throughout the lengthy negotiations, the union has attempted, with some success, to wield the magazine's significant cultural clout.
When the magazine refused to grant staffers strong protections against arbitrary firings last year, the union threatened a boycott of the magazine's 2020 annual festival, prompting headliners Sen. Elizabeth Warren
(D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
(D-N.Y.) to withdraw from the event. The company eventually agreed to the union's demands.
On Tuesday night, union members protested outside the West Village home of Condé Nast chief content officer Anna Wintour, who is well-known far beyond the world of New York media
, most notably as the inspiration for Meryl Streep's icy magazine editor character Miranda Priestly in "The Devil
“Bosses wear Prada! Workers get nothing!” chanted the protesters.
“Bosses wear Prada, workers get nothing.” — @newyorkerunion event pic.twitter.com/MzEVVCtmE6 — Kerry Flynn (@kerrymflynn) June 8, 2021
One of Wintour's neighbors was seen cheering and distributing drinks to union members.
Anna Wintour's neighbor distributes drinks to workers from The New Yorker, Pitchfork, and Ars Technica who are picketing the Condé Nast bigwigs' home in a protest for better wages pic.twitter.com/zAByWCnEb3 — Lachlan Cartwright (@LachCartwright) June 8, 2021
The union is once again attempting to capitalize on the magazine's reputation, inviting readers and subscribers to show their support via an elegantly designed website with graphics in the style of the magazine, and, in a significant show of solidarity, the union posted testimonials from nearly a hundred staffers explaining why they are willing to go on strike.
Carol Anderson, an editorial staffer, wrote in one, "We are the life of this magazine, and we deserve more than scraps tossed from the opulent hand."