Aug 23, 2022 - Economy

Scoop: NYT union floods management with coordinated emails

The New York Times' quarterly dividend amount
Data: Nasdaq; Chart: Simran Parwani/Axios

Around 300 members of the New York Times 1,400-person editorial union sent emails to the highest levels of the Times' management team on Monday in an effort to pressure the company over stalled contract negotiation talks, according to sources familiar with the effort and copies of emails obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: The campaign comes ahead of what's expected to be a tense bargaining meeting on Wednesday. If the two parties don't come to an agreement, the bargaining committee could take the issue up with the National Labor Relations Board.

Between the lines: Union members are frustrated that the Times' management has yet to respond to their proposal for wage increases, especially as the company continues to post strong profits and increase its dividend payout to shareholders.

  • The Ochs Sulzberger family owns some of the Times' stock through a special class of shares held via trusts.
  • The company increased its dividend payout to $.09 quarterly per share earlier this year, up from $.07 in 2021.
  • Last year, the Times reported its "strongest operating profit and adjusted operating profit in many years," per its 2021 annual report.

Driving the news: The emails were sent to executive editor Joe Kahn, as well as CEO and president Meredith Kopit Levien, chairman and publisher A.G. Sulzberger and opinion editor Kathleen Kingsbury.

  • Kahn responded to a union petition in late June, which was reported by the New York Post alongside details of the union's demands, saying "I need to leave the specifics of contract terms to the team at the negotiating table," but that he and the leadership team were "committed" at arriving at a new agreement "that provides higher wage increases and greater benefits than the previous one."
  • While some union members shared personal stories and anecdotes in their letters Monday, others followed a script that made a direct appeal to Kahn to respond to the union's wage increase proposal, which the union says has been ignored for more than a year and a half.
  • "In your response to our letter to you, you mentioned that you were leaving specifics to the company’s team at the bargaining table. Unfortunately, as you’re aware, for the past five months that team has chosen not to respond to our current proposal."

By the numbers: The union is asking for an 8% annual raise, which it argues would cost the company around $11.4 million annually. It also wants a 5.82% cost of living adjustment, matched to inflation, which it says would cost the company another $8.3 million, according to the letters.

  • That $19.7 million annual total, it argues, is modest when compared to the $76 million in adjusted operating profit the company posted last fiscal quarter.

What they're saying: "They have not responded to the wage proposal but during that time have increased the dividend," Bill Baker, the Times' unit chair, told Axios.

  • Under the last contract, which expired in March 2021, unionized employees get a 2% annual increase.
  • Baker said the union settled on that amount because the company wasn't doing as well during the last negotiation, but now it is "increasing profits and instead of sharing it with people making this product, they give it to their shareholders."
  • While wage increases are at the heart of their demands, union members are also seeking a salary floor of at least $65,000, sabbatical opportunities for tenured employees, more transparency around performance reviews, and more efforts around diversity, equity and inclusion.

A Times spokesperson told Axios, "We’re proud to offer among the highest compensation for our industry and we’re also proud to have a large and growing newsroom."

  • "Our goal is to reach a contract that not only pays more and reflects our journalists’ contributions to the success of the Times, but also one that is financially responsible as the company remains in a growth mode and continues to take into account the broader challenges in the industry. We look forward to making progress toward an agreement."

Yes, but: The union has managed to negotiate some new provisions, including updated holiday structures that make events like Juneteenth paid corporate holidays.

The big picture: Inflation and post-pandemic stress has driven a surge in newsroom union activity over the past year.

  • Reuters' U.S. unionized journalists had their first strike in over 30 years in early August over contract negotiations.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to remove an inaccurate reference to a 1% annual merit increase pool. We've also corrected an inaccurate description of the New York Times dividends. They are $.09 quarterly per share this year and $.07 in 2021, not 9% and 7%.

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