NEW YORK >> Hundreds of New York Times journalists and other staff walked off the job for 24 hours today, frustrated by contract negotiations that have dragged on for months in the newspaper’s biggest labor dispute in more than 40 years.
Reporters, editors, photographers and other employees planned a rally outside the Times’ offices, while the newspaper relied on international staff and other non-union journalists to deliver content to its more than 9 million subscribers in the U.S. and other countries.
The strike’s supporters include members of the fast-paced live news desk, which covers breaking news for the digital publication. The live desk was operating today, focusing on the U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner’s release from a Russian prison as part of a prisoner exchange.
In an email to the newsroom, Times Executive Editor Joe Kahn said today’s report would be “robust” but that producing it “will be harder than usual,” the newspaper reported in its own story on the strike.
More than 1,000 union members had pledged last week to strike starting at 12:01 a.m. today unless a deal could be reached to replace a contract that expired in March 2021. The two sides negotiated until Wednesday evening but remained far apart on issues including wages, remote work policies and the company’s employee evaluation system, which the union says is vulnerable to racial bias.
The NewsGuild said via Twitter that “management walked away from the table with five hours to go” before the planned strike.
“It’s never an easy decision to refuse to do work you love, but our members are willing to do what it takes to win a better newsroom for all,” The NewsGuild tweeted. “We know what we’re worth.”
New York Times spokesperson Danielle Rhoades Ha said in a statement that the sides were still in negotiations when the company was told that the strike was happening.
“It is disappointing that they are taking such an extreme action when we are not at an impasse,” she said.
The NewsGuild has argued that employees deserve better compensation for their roles in helping The New York Times become a success story in the long-beleaguered news industry.
The Times, which has grown its subscriber based in recent years, projected an adjusted operating profit of between $320 million and $330 million for 2022 in its most recent earnings report. However, Times Chief Executive Meredith Kopit Levien said in a companywide email that profits are still not what they were a decade ago, the Times reported.
The strike comes as other U.S. media companies including CNN and the digital media outlet BuzzFeed have cut staff, citing difficult economic conditions and a pull-back in advertising.
In a note sent to guild-represented staff Tuesday night, Deputy Managing Editor Cliff Levy called the planned strike “puzzling” and “an unsettling moment in negotiations over a new contract.” He said it would be the first strike by the bargaining unit since 1981 and “comes despite intensifying efforts by the company to make progress.”
The New York Times has seen shorter walkouts in recent years, including a half-day protest in August by a new union representing technology workers who claimed unfair labor practices. The last strike that stopped the newspaper’s publication was in 1978 and lasted 88 days.
In one breakthrough that both sides called significant, the company backed off its proposal to replace the existing adjustable pension plan with an enhanced 401(k) retirement plan. The Times offered instead to let the union choose between the two. The company also agreed to expand fertility treatment benefits.
Levy said the company has also offered to raise wages by 5.5% upon ratification of the contract, followed by 3% increases in 2023 and 2024. That would be an increase from the 2.2% annual increases in the expired contract.
Stacy Cowley, a finance reporter and union representative, said the union is seeking 10% pay raises at ratification, which she said would make up for raises not received over the past two years. The union also wants 5.5% raises in 2023 and 2024.
She also said the union wants the contract to guarantee employees the option to work remotely some of the time if their roles allow for it, but the company wants the right to recall workers to the office full time. Cowley said the Times has required its staff to be in office three days a week, but many have been showing up less often in an informal protest.
Journalists with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in Texas, meanwhile, are in their second week of a strike over contract negotiations about pay and other policies. The Fort Worth NewsGuild announced the strike last Monday, saying the paper’s parent company, McClatchy, refused to bargain in good faith. The Star-Telegram was one of several papers in Texas that saw its staff form a union amid a recent rise in labor organizing.