The New York Times expects employees to start returning to the office three days a week starting this week — but more than 1,300 journalists are saying hell no, they won’t go.
It’s just the latest blow in the increasingly bitter contract dispute between the News Guild journalists union — which includes reporters and photographers, as well as some editors and business-side employees — and upper management, over wages.
As of Monday, 1,316 Times workers had signed a pledge not to return to the office. This includes 879 members of the News Guild, but also members of the Times Tech Guild and the union for Wirecutter, the paper’s product-recommendation spinoff.
“People are livid,” Tom Coffey told The Post. A 25-year veteran editor at NYT, he works on the news desk and serves on the union’s Contract Action Committee.
He added that being forced to return to the office during a period of high inflation means workers will have to spend more money on gas, mass transit, clothing and lunches, despite the lack of salary increase.
NYT video journalist Haley Willis tweeted today: “The @nytimes is giving employees branded lunch boxes this week as a return-to-office perk. We want respect and a fair contract instead — so I’m working from home this week along with 1,300 of my @NYTimesGuild and @NYTGuildTech colleagues, with support from @WirecutterUnion.”
One source said that the branded NYT lunch boxes did not have any sandwiches or other lunch food inside. “They were empty,” said one source. “And the lunch box had no handles.”
According to a Times spokesperson, there is not a set number of days mandated for working in the office and it is up to individual departments to determine what works for their teams — but added: “We continue to believe that a hybrid work environment best suits The New York Times at this moment.”
“It’s not a mandatory three day a week return to work, per se,” Coffey said, “but they really do ‘expect’ you to be back in the office three days a week.”
The negotiating committee offered a 4% pay hike in its last bargaining session on Aug. 24 — the first concrete pay proposal advanced by the company in the talks. The old contract expired at the end of March 2021.
“They discussed wages for about two hours and it was very contentious,” said one source who asked to remain anonymous.
Sources with knowledge of the company’s stance previously told The Post that Times management was putting off wage negotiations until many other issues — such as adding Juneteenth, Veterans Day and Indigenous Peoples Day to the calendar — were settled.
But the last wage hike went into effect in March 2020. “The company negotiators are not slow walking, they are no-walking the wage negotiations,” Coffey claimed.
According to another staffer who did not wish to be identified, “people are increasingly frustrated by the negotiations.”
In addition to an 8% raise, the News Guild had been demanding a cost-of-living increase of 5.25% — and insisting that all workers who can work remotely retain that option indefinitely, and with no mandatory return to offices before July 2023. The Post is told that the labor union may soften on the cost-of-living hike.
The anti-office pledge follows a “flood the in-box” campaign that was unleashed before the last talks in August, in which over 300 journalists sent emails to Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger, new executive editor Joe Kahn, Opinion editor Kathleen Kingsbury and CEO Meredith Kopit Levien.
Many added personal notes, some of which The Post has seen.
“Public filings show that your pay has been going up much more quickly than inflation,” wrote business reporter Peter Eavis, adding that Sulzberger pulled in a total package of $3.6 million in 2021 compared to $2.4 million in 2020.
Kopit Levien saw her total package in 2021 soar to nearly $5.8 million, up from $4.4 million in 2020, Eavis pointed out.
“Also, since the start of 2020, [the company has] paid out $165 million to our shareholders in dividends and stock buybacks,” he added in the email. “That’s cash out the door that you thought the company had no internal use for. Our message today: We really do need it! Please tell your negotiators to get serious in our contract talks.”
Coffey wrote in his email that he received a nice swag bag that included merch emblazoned with the NYT logo, like an umbrella and a water bottle, to mark his 25-year anniversary — but that the swag didn’t mean much when he needs to pay for his daughter’s college tuition.
“I don’t need knick-knacks,” he wrote. “I need a raise.”
He added that the 4% hike the company proposed would be reduced for members who received merit-based pay increases over the past two years: “With no salary increase, It amounts to a de facto pay cut.”
A Times spokesperson told The Post: “We respect the rights of our colleagues in the Guild to make their voices heard. We’re actively working with the NYT NewsGuild to reach a collective bargaining agreement that financially rewards our journalists for their contributions to the success of The Times, is fiscally responsible as the company remains in a growth mode, and continues to take into account the industry landscape.
“We presented the NewsGuild with a wage proposal that would offer contractual increases of 10 percent over the remaining two and a half years of the new contract. That is significantly higher than in recent Times Guild contracts. We look forward to making progress toward an agreement.”
In June, when Kahn stepped into his new role, about 900 journalists sent an email asking him to intervene to end the negotiation log jam and bring about a new contract. Kahn was supportive and said workers deserve a raise for all their hard work, but said he would leave it to the negotiating committee.
Nearly 200 journalists tuned in to a live stream of the Aug. 24 negotiating session. Even more are expected to follow the next meeting, set for Sept. 13.
One longtime NYT reporter told The Post that it is not clear how strictly the mandate to be in the office three days a week is going to be enforced: “A lot of managers are not too happy about having to return to the office either.”