Wirecutter Union Files Labor Grievance After “Vindictive” New York Times Withheld Holiday Pay
5:57 PM EST on December 9, 2021
The Wirecutter Union says it has filed an unfair labor practice grievance with the National Labor Relations Board after the New York Times "illegally withheld holiday pay in retaliation for striking."
Staffers at Wirecutter, the product reviews website that was acquired by the New York Times in 2016 and which formed a union with the News Guild in 2019, are in the process of negotiating a contract with Times management. The workers want better pay from the company, which reported earlier this year it is sitting on $1 billion in cash. Specifically they've asked for a $300,000 pay increase across the salaries of its 65-person department, as well as yearly raises commensurate with their value to the company. Last month, when the Times brass refused to come to the table to collectively bargain, the staffers authorized a five-day strike over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and encouraged would-be readers to boycott the site during that time. The site typically sees a boost in traffic on Black Friday and Cyber Monday and the strike was timed to have maximum impact. The union said it expected to lose wages and overtime for not working on days that are not paid holidays, but that it is illegal for the company to withhold pay for taking a paid holiday. Thanksgiving and the day after it are New York Times paid company holidays, and it's for these days that the union says the company owes them wages.
"We expected everyone to be paid for those days regardless of their schedule because they are New York Times Company holidays that are to be paid out, regardless of if you work or not," said Nick Guy, the chair of the Wirecutter Union. "Most people in the New York Times Company are not working on those days and they are all being paid for those days."
"We have filed an unfair labor practice complaint with NLRB," Guy told Defector. "We do fully expect to win that and have this holiday pay returned to us."
Guy said that staffers didn't even know for sure that they had been shorted until their paychecks arrived today and they realized they hadn't received holiday pay. He said the union had "asked repeatedly" over the past week and a half about whether the Times would withhold wages for the paid company holiday and that they did "not get a definitive answer from the company."
Times spokesperson Danielle Rhoades Ha sent the following statement to Defector:
When workers go on strike they are on unpaid leave for the duration of the strike. That is a standard and widely accepted aspect of going on strike. We apply that practice consistently for any employee on an authorized, unpaid leave. We advised the union and the affected employees in advance of the strike that they would not be paid during their work stoppage.
In response to a follow-up question about the union asking multiple times for clarification on whether the company would withhold pay for the company-wide holidays, Rhoades Ha said that the company communicated to the union that "employees who strike will not be paid by the company for the duration of the work stoppage." The issue could boil down to semantics: Does an employee work stoppage count on days when the company has already said employees who don't work will still be paid? The answer to this question will be up to the NLRB. Rhoades Ha did not answer a question about how the Times will respond to the union's NLRB grievance.
Guy told Defector that the Wirecutter Union and Times management bargained on Monday and again on Wednesday and that they will be back at the table next Monday. He said that while they're getting closer to an agreement, the move by the Times to strip workers of holiday pay is counterproductive.
"We put forth a proposal on Wednesday that I think moves us very close to finishing this up. And I think this very counterproductive to doing that," Guy said. "It feels vindictive. It feels like a form of punishment. And again, it's illegal."