Over Black Friday weekend, journalists at the technology-review website Wirecutter — which is owned by the New York Times — went on strike to demand union recognition in order to properly negotiate for fair working conditions and a more equitable workplace. As student journalists, we stand in solidarity with these workers, and recognize the importance of their journalistic contributions — even if the Times doesn’t.
The Times bought Wirecutter in 2016 after the company generated $150 million in revenue over a five-year period. For the past two years, the Wirecutter union has remained in a standstill with the Times over union contract negotiations, despite the Times sitting on over $1 billion in cash. The company itself brings in over $20 million in revenue each year for the Times, according to NiemanLab.
Additionally, according to the Wall Street Journal, only about a quarter of Wirecutter’s nearly 12 million readers are also Times subscribers. Meanwhile the Times has offered a meager 1% wage increase to compensate Wirecutter employees for their hard work.
The Times’ treatment of Wirecutter employees is unacceptable. The salaries of Times fellows –– a yearlong training program for emerging journalists –– are higher than entry-level starting salaries for Wirecutter.
In the union’s proposal, members are seeking only a 2.5% wage increase and higher minimum salaries for their 65 employees. In other words, they are asking for just 0.029% of the $1 billion currently at the Times’ disposal.
Their fight for a small wage increase is completely justified. One union member, Tim Heffernan, pointed out the glaringly low wages these writers earn: In 2006, Esquire paid Heffernan $52,000 a year for an entry-level position, which is equivalent to $71,000 in today’s dollars. The Times is currently paying its Wirecutter employees sub-2006 wages, despite significant inflation and entry-level candidates being far more qualified than Heffernan was.
All of this is to say that we believe in Wirecutter’s mission to fight for a more equitable workplace and a union that will guarantee a seat at the bargaining table when discussing important matters. We also believe in the power of unionized journalism: We know firsthand that a journalist’s job is often thankless and goes unnoticed, with writers making very little for their tedious work. Having a union brings stability and ease to the workplace, reassuring the editorial staff that their labor matters and that someone is paying attention.
As we have seen with K-SWOC’s lengthy battle for union recognition with Kenyon over the past 14 months, fighting for fair treatment in the workplace is a much more difficult task than it needs to be. Strikes are the last possible resort for workers –– no employee willingly wants to lose hours and possible opportunities for pay. But institutions will often drag their feet until they are forced to reach contract negotiations, with no other option but to come to an agreement with employees. We know this to be true at Kenyon and around the country.
As the Wirecutter union states, numerous other reputable periodicals are unionized, including its parent company the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. Wirecutter should not be excluded from the bargaining table. Let these journalists unionize and negotiate for fair conditions in their workplace.
The staff editorial is written weekly by editors-in-chief Jordy Fee-Platt ’22 and Linnea Mumma ’22, managing editor Amanda Pyne ’22 and executive director Joe Wint ’22. You can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, respectively.