NWU grievance assistance is confidential and available free to union members in good standing.
When union members are cheated, tricked, or ignored, our nationwide network of trained Grievance Officers helps members settle disputes with publishers and clients. A Grievance Officer can advise you in handling a dispute yourself or negotiate directly on your behalf. Our Grievance Officers, all unpaid volunteers, handle over 100 cases a year.
The union has recovered around $1,400,000 for members. All the money recovered goes directly to the writers who earned it.
What Constitutes a Grievance?
A grievance is any work-related injustice done to you that you can't resolve yourself and that the union should. Although the majority of grievances are about contract violations concerning money, they may involve battles over all-rights grabs, obnoxious editorial procedures, bylines, misreported royalties, and other offensive aspects of the ongoing wrestling match known as getting published.
Grievance officers have handled grievances against global publishing houses, newsletters and institutional house organs, and local and regional newspapers and magazines. We have also taken on literary agents, subsidy presses (including some scam artists), literary journals, and work-for-hire employers.
How the Grievance Process Works
When you contact the Grievance and Contract Division (GCD) about a grievance, your case will be assigned to a grievance officer. The grievance officer will ask you about the nature of your complaint and what you want as a resolution. He or she may also ask you to send your documentation, such as your contract, phone notes, and emails.
While some complaints can't be pursued, there's no problem that isn't worth exploring before you decide what to do about it.
If your complaint is one that the union can pursue, the grievance officer will help you write a final demand letter to the publisher or client, backed up by the warning that you will file a grievance with the union if your demand isn't met. Please do not write a final demand letter without the grievance officer's advice.
In many cases, this demand letter is all it takes to persuade the other party to settle. But if it doesn't resolve the dispute, the grievance officer will ask you to fill out a brief grievance form and return it.
The grievance officer will then contact the publisher or client. This first contact by the union often leads to a settlement. If it doesn't, the grievance officer will begin the serious business of educating or wearing down the miscreant, whichever is appropriate.
Most grievances conclude quickly but some drag on for months. Grievance officers often consult with other officers to get their views on a winning strategy, but you have the final word on how hard to push the publisher and when to accept a resolution.
Actions a grievance officer may take on your behalf include letters and phone calls, of course. Grievance officers have done informational picketing and made personal visits. They may publicize a stubborn offender by issuing a Writer Alert. They've used resources generally available to everyone, such as the Better Business Bureaus, Chambers of Commerce, and law enforcement agencies. Grievance officers sometimes recommend that you file a lawsuit in Small Claims Courts or US District Court, and have sometimes filed negative reports with business credit bureaus.
However, there are limits on what a grievance officer can do:
· Grievance officers cannot offer legal advice.
· The NWU cannot sue on your behalf or represent you in court.
· Grievance officers do not make referrals to lawyers.
How to Prevent Grievances from Happening
In many cases, grievances can be prevented by due diligence. Here are some precautions that might help you avoid serious disputes with your publishers:
· Educate yourself about rights, publishing contracts, and good business practices at workshops and conferences offered by the NWU and other writers' organizations, and read books and articles about the professional aspects of writing. We need sharp business skills to make it in this world.
· Use the union's self-help publications as much as possible, especially the Standard Journalism Contract and the NWU Guide to Book Contracts. Members who cannot download them may request them from email@example.com. These resources can help you to establish terms that dissuade publishers from treating you badly.
· Check out publishers that have been unresponsive to writer grievances by looking at the NWU Writer Alerts.
· Contact the GCD and ask for the help of a contract ddviser when you have doubts about an agreement you're negotiating.
· Get written confirmation of agreements and always document important events over the course of the project.
· An agreement does not have to be a written contract. If the editor refuses to offer you a contract or to accept yours, you can send him or her a letter of agreement to sign and return. Or you can send an email asking, "Did you say you wanted 3000 words? And the fee is $750? And it's first serial rights only?" The return email will document your agreement.
· Send your invoice with your first submission. Note on the invoice the rights you're selling and the terms.
· Sign up with the Publications Rights Clearinghouse to protect online rights to your work.
· Register your published work with the US Copyright Office. Registration entitles you to stronger remedies if the work is infringed. You can register multiple articles at one time, making the $30 registration fee more palatable. Visit www.copyright.gov for forms and instructions.
· Don't keep writing for a deadbeat, and don't feel badly when things go wrong. Call your grievance officer and talk it over.
Examples of Successful Grievances
Below are examples of NWU members' grievances that were successfully resolved through the assistance of an NWU grievance officer. Identifiying names have been removed.
1. A magazine publisher had delayed payments amounting to $70,000 to several handred freelancers. Working with a grievance officer a mass grievance was filed. Resolution: All monies paid and procedures to ensure fair treatment instituted. Since the successful resolution of this matter, the publication has been scrupulous in meeting its obligations to freelance contributors.
2. A member's profile of a famous film director was to be published by a major metropolitan daily to coincide with the release of the director's new movie. It was killed because the paper's union went on strike just as the film was being released, and the paper refused to pay the writer the appropriate kill fee. Resolution: Under threat of publicizing its actions, the paper paid the kill fee.
3. Foreign rights income a publisher owed to a member was not being credited to his account, payments and royalty statements were late, and there were other accounting irregularities. Resolution: Payment of almost $4000 in foreign income was obtained, and the accounts were straightened out.
4. A member learned that someone at his former publishing house was telling strangers, including the author's prospective new publisher, that the member's books had done poorly, when in fact they had done very well. Resolution: The former publisher's president was persuaded to issue a directive against such ill-informed gossip.
5. A writer submitted a story in December. The contract said, "pay on acceptance." The story was published in March. By June, the writer still had not been paid. The publisher pleaded poverty and promised to pay a portion of the money within two weeks and the rest as he had it. The money still didn't materialize. The writer enlisted the help of a grievance officer and the publisher gave the grievance officer the same poverty story. Resolution: The writer eventually went to Small Claims Court, won the case and was paid. Another writer stiffed by the same publisher did the same thing and was paid. Unfortunately, five other writers in the same situation were unwilling or unable to go to Small Claims Court. The publication closed and those writers were not paid.
6. A writer signed a contract with a book and electronic publisher giving the publisher all rights in all formats forever. A year after submission, there was no activity indicating that the book would be published. After discussion with a grievance officer, the writer decided she wanted all rights to the book back. Resolution: The publisher agreed to return the manuscript and all rights.
7. A writer worked for years on a book for a university press. Her editor gave her suggestions for changes, which the writer made. But then the editor seemed to lose interest in the project. When asked where the project was, the editor sent a letter terminating the contract and asking for return of the advance monies paid. Resolution: The writer fought this and, with a grievance officer's help, the publisher agreed to accept repayment when the writer sold the book to another publisher.
8. A famous writer wrote an article, which was published, for a specialty magazine owned by a major publishing conglomerate. The editor, who was sympathetic, informed him that they were not paying their writers and the writer should consider taking action against the publisher. Resolution: Within days of a letter from a grievance officer, the writer received a check.
How to Request Grievance Assistance
You can contact the GCD at firstname.lastname@example.org, Be sure to put the letters "GCD" on the subject line to avoid winding up in a spam trap.
Alternatively, you may call (212) 254-0279 Ext. 10 *810 (the asterisk is necessary). Voice mail is collected once each business day, email several times during the day. Always identify yourself by name and give your NWU membership number. This will expedite the process of getting back to you with help.