Aug 29, 2023 - Economy

Scoop: NYT unions file cease-and-desist letters to management over return-to-office policies

Photo: Kena Betancur/VIEWpress

Two of the New York Times' unions have sent cease-and-desist letters to management over its new policies that will see the Times monitoring its workers' return to office via badge swipes, sources told Axios.

Why it matters: Despite reaching a historic contract agreement with the union that represents most of its editorial workers in May, the company's management continues to face a slew of contentious labor issues.

Details: The Times said it would require workers to return to the office three days per week until Sept. 2, 2024, at which time the company has the right to increase the in-office requirement to four days per week. A spokesperson said it has no plans to do that.

  • As part of an announcement about the policies last week, the Times said newsroom leaders may periodically observe badge swipe data to review attendance trends and it "may flag individuals with particularly low attendance," per Semafor's Max Tani.
  • The New York Times Guild, which represents the majority of the Times' newsroom workers, and the Times Tech Guild, which includes more than 600 Times tech workers, both sent cease-and-desist letters to management last week, following the badge swipe announcement, union representatives confirmed to Axios.
  • The New York Times Guild agues the move violates its new contract with management, which doesn't mention badge swipes being used to surveil office attendance. The contract does, however, acknowledge that the company has a right to enforce its return-to-office policies, the Times' spokesperson said.
  • The Times Tech Guild argues the move violates their status quo, or the terms and conditions set at the time that were union ratified in 2022. The status quo remains until the the Tech Guild negotiates a contract with management. A Times' spokesperson noted that the company's return-to-office policies were introduced before the Tech Guild was recognized.

What they're saying: "We think it's a violation of status quo to suddenly change this without bargaining with us," said Goran Svorcan-Merola, an iOS developer for the Times' games department who serves as vice chair of the Tech Guild.

  • "What we want is a RTO [return to office] plan, or lack thereof, that is bargained as part of a complete agreement with our contract."

A spokesperson for the Times said, "We believe that allowing people the flexibility to work together in the office at times and remotely at other times benefits everyone by ensuring that we maintain the strong, collaborative environment that has come to define our culture and drive our success."

Between the lines: In addition to the cease-and-desist letters, the return-to-office policies have also become the subject of a National Labor Relations Board complaint that was initially filed on behalf of both unions last year.

  • The New York Times Guild dropped its complaint after reaching its contract in May, but the complaint on behalf of the Tech Guild still stands.
  • The NLRB notified Times' management Monday that it has until Sept. 13 to decide whether it wishes to accept informal settlement terms related to the complaint.
  • If the Times doesn't agree to the settlement, which is often the case during such disputes, the NLRB would then proceed with a legal process related to investigating the charge, which includes a hearing before an administrative law judge.
  • The settlement outlines a few proposed solutions, including one that says Times' management can't unilaterally implement any return-to-office plans without bargaining with the Tech Guild.

The big picture: The Times reached a deal with the union that represents the majority of its newsroom in May after more than two years of bitter negotiations, but it has yet to reach a deal with the tech workers' union, which was ratified in 2022.

  • Svorcan-Merola said the Tech Guild has been struggling to negotiate a contract with management for over a year.
  • "In terms of where we are in bargaining, it's been disappointing, honestly," he said. "Management has tried to slow-walk the whole process as much as they could.
  • "We've only had a little over a dozen bargaining sessions. It's been a little of a struggle, honestly, to get them to substantively engage with our proposals," he added.

Zoom out: The return-to-office policies represent the latest in a slew of management labor issues.

  • In July, the union representing the newsroom filed a grievance over the company's plan to shutter its stand-alone sports desk and instead rely more heavily on reporting from The Athletic, a sports site it acquired in 2022.
  • The NLRB also received a complaint last year from both unions about the Times' changes to its COVID masking policies, but the Times Guild's complaint was withdrawn when its contract was signed.
  • The Times said last week in a different policy update that office workers and visitors are no longer required to present proof of vaccines upon entering the building.
  • A Times' spokesperson said, "Regarding masking and vaccination policy, the company has followed health and safety guidance at the local, state and federal levels since the start of the pandemic and will continue to do so."

The bottom line: "In the three months since we signed this historic agreement, the company has proceeded to violate it at least a half-dozen times, so we continue to have pretty heated disputes about that," said Stacy Cowley, a staff writer and the New York Times Guild's secretary.

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