How the New York Times Union Finally Got a Pay Raise
Tuesday night, after protracted negotiations and public disputes, the bitter labor fight within The New York Times came to an end: The staff union, which represents more than 1,400 employees, and the company agreed to a tentative contract. Since the Times Guild’s last contract expired in March 2021, but particularly over the past year, outrage has spilled out into public view, with journalists appealing to senior leaders to get more involved back in September and more than 1,100 staffers walking off the job a few months later, a historic act of protest not seen at the paper in more than 40 years. And only a few months ago, in March, Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger argued for bringing in a neutral third party to help reach a deal, citing the “troubling lack of progress,” according to an email reported by The Wall Street Journal. Strike chatter was reaching a fever pitch, as were divisions within the newsroom. Now the Guild Slack was full of celebratory messages and solidarity emojis. What changed?
I’m told that a major breakthrough was a tiered wage proposal floated by the Guild in March. “The notion of trying to find some path through this, that maybe didn’t look like everybody getting the same raise, is one that had bubbled up in a couple of places over the past six months,” says one reporter. As negotiations dragged on, the Guild—which, before the tiered proposal, was proposing across-the-board raises—decided to take the idea more seriously. Under the new proposal, members earning less than $100,000 will receive raises of 12.5%; members earning $100,000 to $119,999 will receive raises of 11.6%; members earning $120,000 to $159,999 will receive raises of 11.2%; and members earning $160,000 or more will receive raises of 10.6%. In other words, everyone gets raises, with the biggest for the lowest earners—who tended to also be those most in support of aggressive union action, like striking—and slightly smaller ones for the higher-paid members. “This approach seemed like a way of satisfying both groups: getting a deal done and lowering the overall cost of it in a way that maybe the company could go with, and at the same time getting the raises for the lower-paid folks who really needed them,” says the reporter. “The tenor of negotiations changed pretty significantly after that,” they add. “The gambit worked on some level.”
Multiple Guild members were involved in developing the tiered idea and working out the mechanics. But people I spoke to specifically shouted out Times economics reporter Ben Casselman as someone who advocated for the proposal within the bargaining committee—and advocated particularly well among higher-earning members who stood to get smaller raises. “He read the room really well on who was willing to strike and who was not willing to strike,” one reporter says of Casselman. “It’s a very decent deal for the higher-paid reporters, because the deal won actual raises on salaries, as opposed to a class minimum,” that reporter says. In the past, raises were based on scale minimums, not actual salaries, which disproportionately benefited higher earners; the tiered structure helped offset that a bit by disproportionately benefitting lower earners. Many of the high performers at the Times, a senior Times reporter tells me, saw the tiered proposal as “an essential compromise at this moment.”
The tiered proposal was, of course, not the only thing that moved the ball. There’d also been continued collective action—like with a petition that over 1,000 people signed about six weeks ago—as well as the looming possibility of a strike. Earlier this spring, the Times Guild canvassed membership as to whether they were willing to authorize such an act. “They mobilized dozens of us to go around and just talk to the members about whether they wanted to do it,” says one Times reporter. A large majority of the membership was willing to strike, and wanted to proceed with a vote to authorize one, but “there were some key pockets of skepticism,” the reporter says, particularly among the top tiers of the newsroom.
And management had been having conversations with members on their own, during which “they heard pretty consistently that people are really unhappy, morale is low, and people blame the company for not getting it done,” says one reporter, noting this was coming “in some cases from people who were pretty skeptical of the Guild.”
“We’re pleased we have reached a tentative agreement that ensures The New York Times will continue to be a place that provides a best-in-class mix of pay and benefits for our journalists and that rewards our NewsGuild-represented colleagues for their contributions to the Times’ success,” Times spokesperson Danielle Rhoades Ha said in a statement to Vanity Fair.
The union will vote to ratify the contract in the coming days. However, it’s clear, in conversations with Times employees following the news, that, as happy as people are to have reached a deal, the contentious fight between the company and its staff—and at times within the staff union—has left a mark on the newsroom. “There’s a big sense of relief that the deal is done because it’s been going on for so long, and a real sense of relief among a contingent of reporters that we didn’t go on strike,” one Times reporter tells me. But “it was just pretty awful how the whole thing went down, and it left a lot of scorched earth in the newsroom.”
“I’m delighted with the contract we’ve won, but irate about the intensity with which we had to fight for every single syllable of this deal,” says finance reporter Stacy Cowley, the unit secretary and a member of the bargaining committee. “It’s infuriating, and insulting, to see this company spending hundreds of millions of dollars on stock buybacks and dividends while making its own employees fight for years for living wages and fair raises.” (Rhoades Ha noted that while the company has authorized stock buybacks and dividends, “the company hasn’t spent most of what was authorized.”)
The contract agreement, says one of the Times reporters I spoke to, “is a step towards redressing major pay inequities that have really afflicted the most loyal and longest serving reporters in the last decade. But it’s only a start.”