New York Times Tech Staff to Walk Out in Growing Union Fight
(Bloomberg) -- New York Times Co. technology employees plan to walk off the job Wednesday over what they say are the newspaper publisher’s illegal efforts to stymie their unionization campaign.
Workers will stage a half-day stoppage, according to the NewsGuild of New York, the affiliate of the Communications Workers of America that the employees seek to join. They say they began discussing a walkout during a Zoom organizing committee meeting Monday, after learning that Times management is asking the government to exclude staff such as data analysts and designers from a forthcoming vote on unionization.
Tech workers play an important role at large media companies like the Times, which have had to adapt their business models to serve online audiences and advertisers. An escalation in the dispute there could inspire similar activism by nonunion tech staff elsewhere.
“It’s disappointing that the union is more focused on attention-seeking tactics than in having constructive dialogue with the company over the critical issue of who is eligible for the proposed bargaining unit -- a standard part of the NLRB election process,” Times spokesperson Danielle Rhoades Ha said in an email Tuesday.
The company is “confident that we are following the letter of the law,” denies any wrongdoing, and is “committed to working with the union in good faith to determine the appropriate unit and schedule an election,” she said.
The guild, which represents 1,300 editorial and business employees at the Times, publicly unveiled a campaign in April to organize the tech workers and says 70% have signed a petition pledging to vote for the union.
The union has filed several still-pending National Labor Relations Board complaints in recent weeks over what it alleges has been an illegal anti-union campaign by management, including interrogating workers about their activism. In April, Times Chief Executive Officer Meredith Kopit Levien declined the employees’ request to voluntarily recognize their new Times Tech Guild, saying management believes “the right next step” is an election.
“I feel continually let down by the company,” said Times software engineer Vicki Crosson, a member of the organizing committee. “They put themselves forward as sort of a liberal bastion in media. To see them be hypocritical about this is really frustrating.”
Petition for Vote
After trying unsuccessfully to reach a deal with the company for an electronic vote overseen by a third party, the guild petitioned the U.S. labor board to hold an election among the roughly 600 tech workers it seeks to represent.
Management is asking the agency to restrict the vote to software engineers only, which would shrink the potential bargaining unit by more than a third, according to a union spokesperson.
On Monday, Rhoades Ha said the Times was disappointed that the guild had gone public with the discussions over who should be in the bargaining unit, and that there were “questions and critical issues to address” given that “a tech-focused unit of this size and scope is unprecedented” to date.
When asked in June about other allegations made by the guild, the Times said it was communicating with staff “to make sure they have all the information they need to decide if joining a union is right for them.”
“The New York Times supports an election where everyone has the opportunity to vote on the proposed union for our technology and product development teams,” Rhoades Ha said in an emailed statement at the time.
Both the media and tech sectors have been roiled by waves of workplace organizing in recent years. CWA’s NewsGuild won recognition for the first time at the Los Angeles Times, the Guardian and the Daily Beast. Its Washington-Baltimore chapter represents news outlets including Bloomberg Industry Group, a subsidiary of Bloomberg LP.
The country’s top tech companies remain nonunion, but have faced high-profile activism, including the unveiling in January of another CWA affiliate, the Alphabet Workers Union, targeting the parent of Google.
Companies facing union votes frequently try to add or subtract groups of workers from the voting pool, based on where they think the union is strong or weak, according to former National Labor Relations Board member Wilma Liebman, who also served as legal counsel to several unions.
“It’s not unusual for employers to be opportunistic in trying to gerrymander a unit to what they think they most likely will prevail with,” said Liebman, who led the board under President Barack Obama.
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