NEW YORK >> On Monday morning, union employees at The New Yorker unveiled a website that included their demands for higher pay and better job security, as well as the statement that they were “on the verge of a strike.”
This evening, the employees marched from the campus of New York University to the nearby Greenwich Village home of Anna Wintour, the fashion icon, magazine editor, publishing executive and Manhattan power player who has become a symbol of Condé Nast, the corporate home of The New Yorker.
“Bosses wear Prada, workers get nada!” they chanted.
There were about 100 protesters in all, many of them fact checkers or editorial staff members who belong to The New Yorker Union, a group that started three years ago and is affiliated with the NewsGuild of New York.
The demonstrators included employees from two other Condé Nast publications with union representation — the digital publications Ars Technica and Pitchfork.
A few police officers looked on as the protesters marched in a loop outside Wintour’s darkened town house on the otherwise serene block of Sullivan Street. They carried signs that said, “You can’t eat prestige” and “Fair pay now” in The New Yorker’s distinctive typeface.
Genevieve Bormes, an associate covers editor at The New Yorker, said she made $53,000 annually after working at the magazine for more than five years. Her salary was $33,000 when she started in 2016, she said, adding that the wages offered by the magazine favored workers who had a financial cushion.
“People from a range of backgrounds can’t afford to work there,” Bormes said.
The protest was a sharp escalation in The New Yorker employees’ two-year fight with Condé Nast over wages, health care benefits and work-life issues.
The company had tried to stave it off in a Monday night email to union employees that said, “Targeting an individual’s private home and publicly sharing its location is not acceptable.” The union replied with an email accusing the company of “what looks like an unlawful attempt to discourage protected concerted activity.”
Talks between The New Yorker Union and Condé Nast started at the end of 2018, shortly after more than 100 copy editors, fact checkers and other employees organized with the NewsGuild.
Some New Yorker workers make as little as $42,000 a year, according to the union. The union is seeking a base salary of $60,000 for its members.
In recent bargaining talks, the company offered a floor of $54,500, according to Natalie Meade, a fact checker and chair of the NewsGuild’s unit at the magazine. A Condé Nast spokesperson said the company had made progress in recent negotiations, adding, “We hope to have a contract soon so that real wage increases find their way to our union employees.”
Many New Yorker staff writers, including some of the magazine’s high-profile contributors, are considered freelancers and do not qualify to unionize under federal labor law. In the event of a strike, the union has asked all New Yorker contributors not to file articles or do other work for the magazine.
Shirley Nwangwa, a fact checker at The New Yorker since January, said of her colleagues, “They are able somehow to preserve their brilliance, despite the fact they are not making much money in one of the most expensive cities in the world.”
Vrinda Jagota, an associate social media manager at Pitchfork, said that the bargaining had taken too long and that Condé Nast leaders had been “slow at every turn.”
“I hope she hears us,” she said of Wintour.
Wintour’s authority has been challenged by rank-and-file employees and some colleagues since last spring, but that has not stopped her ascent.
A Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire since 2017, and someone who was celebrated and satirized by Meryl Streep in the 2006 film “The Devil Wears Prada,” Wintour started at Condé Nast as the editor of the American edition of Vogue more than three decades ago, back when print magazines and London-trained editors were all the rage.
She was named artistic director of Condé Nast in 2013 and the company’s global content adviser in 2019. At the end of 2020, she was made worldwide chief content officer and global editorial director, a position that gave her the last word over Condé Nast publications, which also include Vanity Fair, in more than 30 markets outside the United States.
There is one Condé Nast publication that Wintour does not oversee: The New Yorker, which author and editor David Remnick has led since 1998. Remnick and Wintour declined to comment for this article.
Meade said the union had chosen Wintour’s neighborhood because she served as a “proxy” for Condé Nast. “What’s happening at The New Yorker is not necessarily happening in a vacuum,” she said.
The protest was the most dramatic Condé Nast job action since members of the New Yorker’s staff walked off the job for one day in January. In September, when staff members refused to work at the annual New Yorker Festival, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., pulled out of their scheduled appearances in solidarity with them.
In March, the magazine’s union workers, along with the unions at Ars Technica and Pitchfork, voted to authorize a strike.