HarperCollins strike dispatch

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HarperCollins strike dispatch

Dec 08 2022

From an article by Rye White in n + 1 magazine:

An observer can catch HarperCollins president and CEO, Brian Murray, crossing the picket line most mornings, evenings, and lunchtimes, although sometimes he avoids us by taking the entrance through Starbucks on the corner of the building by Dey and Church. His response to the strike so far (tucked away in a since-deleted report on the company’s profits) has been characteristic of management’s approach: some people will always want more. What exactly does more look like to the workers at HarperCollins? A fair contract that guarantees union security, codifies diversity protections, and most crucially increases salary minimums from $45,000 to $50,000.

Like a lot of white-collar sectors, publishing has long been an industry guilty of exploiting the nebulous quality that bosses like to call “passion.” My colleagues and I have the jobs we do because we love books, we believe they have power and significance, and we work incredibly hard on their behalf. But anyone who’s worked in the industry—at one of the “Big Five” publishers like HarperCollins, or at a small agency whose team members can be counted on one hand—has heard lines like one leaked from an influential HarperCollins higher-up early on in the strike: if we just “stuck it out” for ten years, we could stand to make a decent living in publishing. We’ve been told that this is just how it is. The industry’s established players hardened themselves to low pay and long hours, so what’s our problem?

Claims like this ring especially hollow in an industry as demographically unbalanced as publishing, which is overwhelmingly staffed by young women on the lower levels and overwhelmingly white at all levels. Many who have “stuck it out” in publishing have had their low wages cushioned by the help of a partner’s income or support from upper- or middle-class families. But workers without the benefits of whiteness, without well-paid spouses or partners, without families who have income to spare for their expenses month after month are too often pushed out. Living in a city like New York on $45,000 is difficult and inhumane; trying to do it while battling racism and sexism on the daily is even more so. The union’s position is clear: if this industry wants to retain the love and passion it runs on, something (the corporate powers that be) has gotta give (us more money).

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