Unionized journalists at the New York Times are heading into a critical negotiating session with management on Tuesday that will determine whether more than 1,000 members of the NewsGuild will make good on their threat to stage a one-day walkout Thursday.

The two sides are feuding over pay hikes, health care and pension plans as they head into a bargaining session that is slated to stretch from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“We will walk out and stop work for 24 hours, on Thursday, Dec. 8, if we do not have a deal for a complete and equitable contract by then,” Bill Baker, the NYT’s unit chair for the NewsGuild said in a memo Friday sent to publisher A.G. Sulzberger, scion of the family that controls the Gray Lady, and president and CEO Meredith Kopit Levien.

The memo was signed by nearly 1,100 union members that included journalists, photographers and some business side people.

However, hopes are looking bleak that a deal will be hammered out before Thursday – leading to the possibility of the first major work stoppage at the Times since 1978.

New York Times headquarters
The company has proposed giving union members making $120,000 a year an additional $32,103 in compensation over the next two and a half years
NurPhoto via Getty Images

“Baker sent the memo first thing Friday morning and the hope was that management would get back to him right away and start round-the-clock negotiations over the weekend. But that did not happen,” said a source close to the union.

The company has proposed giving union members making $120,000 a year an additional $32,103 in compensation over the next two and a half years, according to a memo sent by Times associate managing editor Cliff Levy to all Guild employees on Nov. 10.

The union countered Friday that the pay hike proposals on the table would only raise wages by an average of 2.75% a year – far below the cost of inflation.

New York Times Publisher A.G. Sulzberger
Publisher A.G. Sulzberger, scion of the family that controls the Gray Lady.
Getty Images

On Monday, the Times said its offer amounts to an 11% raise that includes a 5% retroactive hike upon ratification and 3% wage hikes each in 2023 and 2024.

“While we are disappointed that the NewsGuild is threatening to strike, we are prepared to ensure the Times continues to serve our readers without disruption,” a Times spokesperson told The Post. “We remain committed to working with the NYT NewsGuild to reach a contract that we can all be proud of. Our current wage proposal offers significant increases.”

The union also has accused The Times of trying to boost costs for health care and end the pension plan that pays employees a lifetime pension – replacing it with a 401(k) plan that would stop being funded by the employer as soon as a person retired.

“We’re looking for wages that keep pace with inflation and the preservation of our health care and pension benefits,” said Ken Belson, an NYT sports reporter who was quoted in the NewsGuild statement.

The Times offered this branded lunch box to employees who returned to work for three days after Labor Day.
The Times offered this branded lunch box to employees who returned to work for three days after Labor Day.

The union also claimed that the $150 million stock buyback the Times made in February far exceeded the cost of the wage and benefit hikes it is seeking over the entire course of a new multi-year contract. It also pointed to the very generous bonuses doled out to executives. The top three saw compensation increases of 32.3%  last year, the union said.

“We have been bargaining in good faith for 20 months while management’s goal has been to slow-walk us to an inferior contract,” said Baker, the unit chair who is also the telecommunications coordinator at the Times. “This has to stop now. It’s time for the company to get serious about making a fair deal.”

A strike could disrupt publication of other papers – including the NY Post, Newsday and the regional editions of the Wall Street Journal and USA Today – if the trade unions at the Times decide to honor the NewsGuild’s one-day walkout, since those papers outsource their printing to the Times’s College Point printing plant.

John Heffernan, president of the pressmen’s union and the umbrella Allied Printing Trades Council that includes the drivers, electricians and other trades, is scheduled to meet Wednesday following the session between the Guild and management.

“We support them and will see how to further support them,” Heffernan told The Post. “I’ll know more Wednesday.”

Despite the increasingly acrimonious negotiations, some insiders doubt enough staffers will opt for a full strike. The union has yet to schedule the strike authorization vote from membership, a critical step in the escalating labor battle.

“The New York Times is like a cult or a religion,” said one source involved with the petitioning efforts. “There’s a lot of whining, but I don’t know that the majority of members are ready for a full strike.”

The Times has had a history of work disruptions. There were brief lunch-hour newsroom protests by the Guild in 2011 in a dispute over wages and in 2017 in protest over plans to axe copy editors.

The premises of the Times during a 1978 strike.
The premises of the Times during a 1978 strike.
Getty Images

Those protests stopped work for a few hours, but a one-day “strike” would be the first major work interruption at the Gray Lady since the 88-day strike that started on Aug. 10, 1978.

At that time, the Daily News and The Post also went on strike since they shared the same trade unions. The Post resumed publication about 50 days into the strike when its parent News Corp hammered out a new deal with the pressmen’s union. But the News and Times did not settle the strike until Nov. 5.

During the 1978 strike, some leading journalists banded together to produce a 24-page parody broadsheet newspaper called “Not The New York Times” that was edited by National Lampoon editor Tony Hendra and Paris Review founder George Plimpton – with contributions that ranged from Carl Bernstein to Jerzy Kosinski as well as many of the out-of-work Times reporters.

A 1963 strike resulted in the launch of The New York Review of Books, which started as a strike publication to replace the missing book reviews and has remained in publication ever since.


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Tyler Cowan