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Why The New Yorker’s Stars Didn’t Join Its Union

Neither effort has gained traction.

Many of the writers, it seemed, valued their independent contractor status. Some, led by Tad Friend and Jia Tolentino, used the threat of a union — and the suggestion that Condé Nast had illegally classified many of them as contractors, which the company disputes — to set up a process by which some writers could become employees with health benefits. A deal was finalized late last month.

And that has left the most prominent writers mainly watching from the sidelines in recent weeks as a bitter labor dispute has consumed their beloved magazine. The New Yorker is now working out the final details of a contract, and people on both sides appeared optimistic they would reach an agreement this week. They’ve agreed on a $55,000 starting salary and are hashing out issues like caps on potential health care cost increases, people familiar with the talks said — even as the Guild threatens a strike.

Many writers have tweeted in support. But no writers turned up at a protest outside Condé Nast headquarters on May Day, and none appeared to be present at a march outside the home of Condé Nast’s global chief content officer, Anna Wintour, on June 8.

The conflict has seized the attention of the industry not just because of the employees’ glee at holding the brand hostage in public, but also because it highlights big questions facing contemporary media. How much power can employers exercise over their employees? Are junior employees apprentices or a permanent creative underclass? And as the labor movement seeks to level the playing field, will the stars go along?

It’s all particularly personal at The New Yorker, where the campaign has pitted a culture built on personal relationships and deep trust against a group of employees who reject the idea that they should be subject to the whims of any boss, no matter how benign.

The easiest-to-understand element of the dispute involves the wages of the production employees, the group that includes everyone from fact checkers to social media editors. Some salaries start as low as $42,000 a year, and remain under $60,000 after 20 years on the job.

But other tensions revolve around the sense that the junior jobs only rarely offer promotions into the ranks of writers, and no clear career path.


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