Celebrating our 30th Anniversary - Highlights of National Writers Union/UAW Local 1981 History


The “Why a Union?” workshop at the Nation Institute’s Writers’ Congress draws an overflow crowd. The plenary of 3,000 writers endorses the proposal to create a union for writers in all genres to actively press for better pay and treatment and to vigorously oppose Reagan-era threats to free expression. "We need no more heroic individual writers," said keynote speaker Toni Morrison. She called for "an accessible organization that is truly representative of the diverse interests of all writers."

Barbara Raskin is elected head of an organizing committee and writers return home to organize chapters, starting with the San Francisco/Bay Area, New Jersey, New York, Washington DC, Baltimore/Maryland, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Westchester/Fairfield, followed by  Boston, Santa Cruz/Monterey,  Chicago, Los Angeles,  Twin Cities,  Northwest (Seattle/Oregon),  Western MA, and more recently At Large, Tucson, Philadelphia,  Seattle and Vermont.

The Washington DC local spearheads the first NWU agreement with Black Film Review on freelance terms. An agreement with Musician magazine soon follows.


Under direction of journalist John Dinges, the NWU writes a national constitution that focuses on decentralized democracy.


The National Writers Union is officially chartered. Members ratify a national constitution that  insures that chapters around the country have autonomy in local affairs. District 65/UAW provides free office space.

One of the NWU's first campaigns is to support poet Dennis Brutus when the U.S. Immigration Service threatens to deport him back to South Africa where he would face certain persecution. NWU members write letters and work vigorously to win him asylum, which he is granted.

NWU and Mother Jones make agreements on minimum standards for freelance contributors. Pacific Guest Life agrees to similar terms.

New York Chapter forms a softball team that plays against a combined Nation, Nuclear Times and Village Voice team. Two years later, the union’s ”Mighty WU” team has a winning season and competes in the publishers’ softball league.



NWU spearheads a group grievance against Larry Flynt’s Rebel magazine resulting in recovery of $50,000 in lost fees.

NWU holds a Conference focused on Censorship and Culture in New York City, to address issues of censorship and self-censorship, the censorship of the marketplace and the role of writers – individually and collectively --  in combatting these problems. Speakers include Alice Walker, Seymour Hersch, June Jordan, Barbara Ehrenreich, Dennis Brutus, Ariel Dorfman, and Ed Asner.


NWU makes an agreement with Columbia Journalism Review and Ms. magazine on standard contracts.

The grievance committee presses Penguin to compensate Michael Rumaker for violating his copyright by printing one of his poems in The Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse without his permission. The result: Rumaker receives $500.

NWU runs a successful campaign in support of screenwriter Alvah Bessie's grievance against Holt Rinehart & Winston over the publisher's attempt to shred all remaindered copies of  his 1980 novel, One for my Baby, in violation of the  contract. The publisher agrees, unfortunately one day before the author dies, to pay full replacement costs for the destroyed books.

NWU supports author Margaret Randall, a U.S. citizen who had been living in Cuba. On her return to the U.S., she was threatened with deportation because of the content of her writing. Chicago co-sponsored a fundraiser featuring Gwendolyn Brooks and Studs Terkel  to support Randall’s legal fees: The campaign draws media attention. Randall is not deported.

NWU mobilizes members to support Kitty Kelley, after Frank Sinatra files a multi-million dollar lawsuit to try to silence her unauthorized biography of him.  Sinatra drops his case.

Chapters develop databases and model contracts and codes of practices: Bay Area journalists develop a database on how writers are treated at local and national publications; technical writers develop a code of professional practices; and literary writers hold a program on how to get grants and fellowships. Twin Cities creates a model contract for use by poets who do readings. Maryland publishes the Maryland Writer's Guide, with information on pay and policies of dozens of publications and advice on negotiating good terms with editors.

Chapters offer writers ways to get their work recognized: Westchester arranges for a White Plains Library shelf of books by NWU authors (NWU logo on spine) and a file of member-authored articles. Santa Cruz holds its first annual poetry and fiction competition, with judges including Tillie Olsen, Lucille Clifton, Phillip Levine, and Marge Piercy.

NWU offers press credentials (for a fee) to members who document their publication credits. The card with photo allows members to gain press entry to events.


Boston Chapter wins a mass grievance against New Age magazine, recovering $30,000 owed to freelancers. Santa Cruz wins a grievance against Scribners on issues of copyright and payment for educational testing materials.

New York Chapter demonstrates at NY Daily News strike, marches through "New York is Book Country," starts a gay/lesbian caucus that draws 60 writers to its first meeting, sets up tri-state job bank, and leaflets during Banned Books Week.

Washington DC Chapter offers a political writing course at the Institute for Policy Studies.



L.A. Weekly agrees on a freelancer contract with a pioneering health coverage provision.

NY Chapter wins a $53,000 grievance from Her New York.


NWU wins $25,000 for 16 writers: Macmillan denies liability but settles.

Activists work with poets, fiction and non-fiction contributors to negotiate the first freelancers' contact with a literary publication, Ploughshares.

Village Voice agrees to work rules after NWU demonstrations, Executive director Kim Fellner devises  a series of strategic protests. In one, writers cut out all the freelance pieces out of the Village Voice and storm into the office of the editor-in-chief (head of giant pet-food company) to present the shredded results, calling out “We won’t write for birdseed.” In another “performance piece outside the OBIE awards dinner at Ritz club, Voice writer and former Warhol superstar Viva sits inside a large birdcage, typing and wailing “30 cents a word!” as writers call “cheap, cheap, cheap” and hand packets of birdseed to arriving guests.

NWU President Alec Dubro testifies at the trial of Demetria Martinez, after she is charged with conspiracy to violate immigration laws for accompanying two Salvadoran women on an illegal journey across the U.S/Mexican border. Dubro argues that such independent writers provide reporting not to be found elsewhere and ought to be protected, not persecuted. Martinez is found not guilty.

Boston Chapter publishes Insider’s Guide to Freelancing in New England, following Baltimore's lead, as does Chicago Chapter with its Byline: An Insider's Guide to Chicago-Area Print Media. Boston journalists launch a drive to get publications to pay writers not on publication, but on acceptance of completed articles. Seven publications agree to those terms.

NWU lobbies for NEA authorization without restrictions.



The NWU takes a leading role in defense of Salman Rushdie and his novel The Satanic Verses. Members demonstrate in Boston, Washington, Chicago, Minneapolis and San Francisco to protest death threats against the British writer and to demand that chain bookstores that have pulled his book return it to their shelves, which they agree to do. In New York City, the NWU leadership maintains an all-night vigil at the United Nations and presents petitions to Viking and to Barnes and Noble.

Activists debate possible affiliation with a larger union, for solidarity and clout. Several interested unions approach us.

Western New England Chapter wins an agreement by the Valley Advocate to offer kill fees, pay freelancers’ expenses, and use assignment letters.

Santa Cruz Chapter holds “Word Quake” – a fundraiser to raise money for earthquake-affected bookstores whose owners are doing business from tents.


New York Chapter organizes an anti-censorship reading/performance to oppose National Endowment of the Arts restrictions. Readers include Quincy Troupe and Sarah Shulman.

Bay Area Chapter holds a “Torpedo the Censorship” multi-cultural reading and demonstration in front of the San Francisco federal building to make connections between the attacks on artists and writers with right wing attacks on homeless, elderly, gays and immigrants.

Santa Cruz Chapter  campaigns to keep Matrix, the lesbian-feminist paper, on the shelves of several area libraries where it had been removed.  The Chapter holds an “In Your Ear, Jesse Helms!” reading.

NWU supports Pacifica Radio writers, including many NWU members, during their strike, which proved successful.


NWU votes to affiliate with the United Auto Workers, known for its progressive history and its commitment to organizing non-traditional workers such as lawyers and graduate students. We are now the National Writers Union UAW Local 1981 of the AFL-CIO.

Lesbian and gay members call on the NWU to press the UAW to amend its constitution’s anti-discrimination law to include sexual orientation. NWU President Tasini later introduces the motion at the UAW convention. It passes overwhelmingly.

NWU focuses on helping members cope with an increasing problem: computer-related injuries, and campaigns to improve ergonomic standards. New York Chapter alerts writers to symptoms of repetitive strain injury (“Is Your Computer Hazardous to Your Health?).” Other chapters soon follow. The Bay Area Chapter offers wrist pads to writers experiencing pain that is causing some to give up their careers as writers.

NWU publishes Books in Chains to document the connection between chain bookstores and marketplace censorship. NWU calls on chain bookstores to increase availability and visibility of books by people of color and other minority communities.

Bay Area Chapter launches a job bank to enable writers to find employment without having to go through temp agencies. Other chapters follow suit. Four years later, the union votes to establish a national job bank.


The United Auto Workers now provides for NWU office space, paid organizers, Legal Department access, leadership and educational programs and lobbying assistance, plus $25,000 a year for volunteer stipends. The NWU is free to run its own affairs, as long as membership grows and  the NWU pursues campaigns relating to pay and rights.

NWU declares a national Writers’ Rights Day. Chapters around the country hold demonstrations, workshops, and speakouts, to call attention to the NWU's "Writers’ Bill of Rights.” The New York Chapter signs its Declaration of Writers’ Electronic Rights publicly: at Grand Central Station. The day gets widespread media coverage.

NWU organizes a letter-writing campaign to restore National Endowment for the Arts funding and to counter misinformation about the NEA from the American Family Association, and a letter-writing and leafleting campaign on behalf of two  members’ grievances against  Simon & Schuster/Pocket Books.

NWU calls on Penguin USA to agree to minimum terms equivalent to its agreement with two British writers' groups.

Boston Chapter funds WORDS, a monthly lesbian and gay newsletter of publishing news, interviews, submissions, and member kudos, which is distributed to interested members in all locals. New York and Boston gay caucuses are particularly active.

NWU compiles an Agents Database of valuable information members share about their own agents; it draws many new members.

Health and libel insurance draw many members (20%  increase in membership)..


The Grievance Division wins $40,000 for 50 contributors to In These Times.

NWU protests non-payment to four members owed $1,700 by Reach New England, a magazine for minority business executives. After the union alerts the press and the publisher hears that members will show up at his fundraising bash, he delivers the checks.

The union issues a Writers of Color Report by Charles Coe and Yleana Martinez, based on in-depth interviews with writers of color, to identify the most crucial problems and prepare for effective NWU action.  A parallel report lays out the issues facing GLB writers.

Bay Area Chapter hosts a “Wildcat Words” series in which writers in various genres read on provocative topics such as “freedom of sexpression,” “Dis’Abilities,” “Disinformation,” “Labor,” and “Drugs, Virtual Reality, and Cults.”



NWU President Jonathan Tasini and other journalists launch a groundbreaking lawsuit against the New York Times, Lexis/Nexis, Time Inc., and other distribution services, for reissuing freelancers’ articles on the Internet without permission or additional compensation. NWU executive director Maria Pallante oversees strategic support for the case and the UAW funds the considerable legal costs. NWU launches Publication Clearing House as a way for writers to set payment terms for republication of their work. The union is now seen as the defender of writers’ right to control the use and payment for electronic uses of their work. Membership grows rapidly.

The union’s Political Issues Committee (PIC) advocates vigorously on freedom of expression and labor issues. Bob Chatelle distributes a PIC newsletter that inspires free expression advocates to write, call and lobby in support of members such as Leslie Fineberg, disinvited as a college commencement speaker for being  transgender; school teacher Penny Culliton, fired for assigning E.M. Forster’s Maurice; and Anne Brashler, whose Getting Jesus in the Mood was banned from an Illinois public library.

NWU helps reverse California Department of Education’s decision, made under pressure from the Traditional Values Coalition, to remove Alice Walker’s “Roselily” from its assessment test. NWU leaders testify before a legislative committee, write articles, speak out on radio, etc.



NWU journalists create a Standard Journalism Contract and negotiating guide to help freelance journalists actively set terms rather than react to publishers' contracts. NWU develops the union’s Guide to Electronic Rights.

NWU publishes the NWU Freelance Rates and Standard Practices, a comprehensive guide by and for writers in all genres, with first-person accounts of the writing life, and practical advice on how to negotiate the best possible deal.

NWU calls for improvements in clarity and frequency of book royalty statements.

NWU Delegate Assembly votes to give an honorary membership to jailed journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, citing irregularities in his 1982 trial on charges of killing a Philadelphia policeman. Abu-Jamal had worked in the 1970s to defend poor and working people and to expose police brutality.



NWU national Job Bank now has a full-time coordinator; membership increases. NWU sets minimum standards for jobs posted. Great success in its first years. The project closes in 2002 when Monster.com starts to dominate the job-listing field.

The Boston Globe tries to impose an all-rights contract on its contributors. Freelancers, led by NWU journalists and freelance photographers, launch a protest. The Globe backs down. 

NWU focuses on raising issues of importance to writers of color. The Boston Chapter and Asian and Black journalist organizations hold a joint forum to tackle a growing problem: “CybeRights and CyberWrongs: Protecting and Promoting Your Creative Output in Cyberspace.”


NWU hits the one million dollar mark in money recovered for members from publishers and other employers, with the backing of local and national grievance officers.

NY District Court judge Sonia Sotomayor rules against plaintiffs in Tasini v. NYT. Plaintiffs then appeal with support from UAW: the writers eventually win a settlement, which then gets mired down in challenges and appeals.

The union’s journalists launch a “kill the kill fee” campaign to push back against the kill fee provision in many journalism contracts.

NWU lobbies successfully for federal law expanding tax deductions for home offices: 100 members write letters and emails. The campaign results in legislation raising freelancers’ deductions.  The union also lobbies for new tax provisions increasing the portion of health insurance premiums that self-employed workers can write off for medical deduction without itemizing.

NWU recognizes the significance of campus writers: an Academic Writers Organizing Campaign is launched. 

NWU becomes a sponsoring organization of Pride at Work, a key factor in Pride at Work gaining full status as an AFL-CIO constituency group.

The Book Division issues On the Road: The NWU Guide to Book Promotion, which dovetails with the union’s Authors Network of members who offer to host fellow members who are self-funding their own book tours.

Los Angeles Chapter sponsors a literary reading to support Guess garment workers who have been organizing fellow workers into UNITE, the garment workers’ union. The jeans manufacturer is suing the workers for libel and slander.


NWU launches a biz-tech division, originally called BITE (business, institutional, technical, educational), and advises more members on work-for-hire contracts. San Francisco Chapter holds a “Breaking into Tech Writing” workshop featuring three writers of color, at the Urban League Jobs Fair.

NWU offers Media Liability Insurance to qualified members (later becomes unavailable, but may be offered again in 2012).

NWU compiles a Media Rates Database for members only, with rates that members report having received from various periodicals. This and the union’s Agent Database are later superseded by Internet-available information.

NWU joins the Authors Coalition and along with other writers’ organizations it receives annually a share of monies from non-title specific European copying.

National Diversity Committee expands its scope to advocate on issues facing LGBT writers and writers with disabilities. The committee distributes a Database of Book Publishers, Agents and Editors Who Have Handled Books by Writers of Color. Southeast Michigan Chapter hosts the union’s first annual National Diversity Committee retreat, in Detroit. (In 2003, NDC is reorganized and renamed the Civil Rights Committee).

At Large Chapter’s Miami members launch a book donation drive for people who are being held by U.S. Immigration officials.

Southeast Michigan Chapter co-sponsors an annual worker-writers festival, an evening of multi-cultural poetry and prose by and for workers, and publishes Telling Our Own Stories: Voices of Workers.  

Bay Area Chapter co-sponsors “Yo Tambien Soy America: A Reading in Response to Columbus Day by Poets/Poetas,” and a second reading to support bilingual education.

Twin Cities Chapter launches the first of its annual Op-Ed Slams to give writers with passionate opinions an opportunity to deliver them unedited, uncensored, and uninhibited.


BITE division issues the NWU Guide to Work-for-Hire Contracts.

The Graphic Artists Guild, which represents freelancers with similar concerns as NWU members for copyright and work for hire, joins the NWU in affiliating with the UAW.

Bay Area Chapter supports Bruce Mirken, winner of 11 journalism awards for his reporting on queer youth, HIV/AIDS and other topics, after he is arrested while researching a possible story about an apparently troubled gay teenager. NWU members write letters and emails. The judge dismisses all charges.

NWU’s first online Member Networking Directory connects members around the country: 440 members share bio blurbs and contact info.

Southeast Michigan Chapter  holds a ”Braided Lives” seminar on researching, writing and publishing works with mixed-race (especially Black/Native) themes.

Barbara Kingsolver awards the first Bellwether Prize in support of literature for social change. The $25,000 prize, administered through the NWU’s non-profit arm (NWU Service Organization), goes to a novelist of social conscience, along with guaranteed publication of a run of at least 10,000.



NWU announces licensing deals with Contentville.com, SIRS (academic database), and rightsworld.com to compensate authors for electronic use of their work.

The Boston Globe again imposes a rights grab contract, this time retroactive to past articles contracted under First North American Serial Rights terms. Freelancers organize, as in 1996, and file a class-action lawsuit charging unfair business practices. Over the next four years, NWU members along with freelance  photographers picket Globe-sponsored events until a Superior Court judge, while acknowledging the unfairness, dismisses the case because he can find no  state statute on which to rule in the plaintiffs’ favor.

The Bay Area Chapter spearheads an organizing effort to demand a new trial for Abu Mumia-Jamal on freedom of expression grounds relating to is writings being used during sentencing proceedings. In 2011, the Supreme Court dismisses his death sentence, citing unfairness during the sentencing phase, the same argument the NWU made earlier during our call for a retrial.

Washington DC Chapter holds an issues-focused panel, “Making Room for Us: Latino Writing and the Publishing Industry,” hosted by Ray Suarez, in collaboration with the Council of Latino Agencies.

NWU beats back repeated attempts by computer industry temp agencies to deny overtime pay to California business and technical writers.

NWU invites Iranian journalist to speak at our annual Delegates Assembly. President Tasini writes Iran’s ayatollah expressing expressed grave concern over the harassment, intimidation, and imprisonment of journalists and over the closure of 16 magazines and newspapers. The NWU appeals for the release of the imprisoned journalists.


The U.S. Supreme Court rules, in the NWU-UAW backed lawsuit Tasini v. N.Y. Times, for the plaintiffs who had contested the re-use of their articles in electronic databases without their permission. The court upholds the principle that converting a print article, contracted under First North American Serial Rights terms, into an electronic version, requires separate payment for the new medium. The groundbreaking victory leads to widespread publicity and NWU membership rises to 7,300.

NWU Diversity Committee funds a First Nations North and South writing project that leads to the limited edition publication of  We Shall Overcome: The Indigenous Struggle: A Bi-lingual Anthology of Native Writing/La Lucha Indigena: Antologia Bilingue de Escrituras.

Twin Cities Chapter holds “The WOW Conference (Who Owns What): Intellectual Property in the New Millennium” on the trend in corporate media to demote freelance writers, artists and musicians to the status of “content providers,” and how writers can protect themselves and their work.



NWU issues Building Strength Through Diversity: A Handbook for Locals, the national diversity committees’ handbook on issues facing writers of color, writers with disabilities, and LGBTQ writers, and NWU approaches to addressing them.

Offshoring destroys the careers of hundreds of technical writers. As a result, NWU rapidly loses members who had been both high dues payers and vigorous activists in making a case against offshoring.

As UAW subsidies are phased out, membership and dues income drops. NWU discovers that its health insurance provider, Employers Mutual Insurance, is  a fraudulent operation and had been wrongfully denying claims (note: members who filed claims against Employers Mutual do recover 100% of their out-of-pocket expenses). The union’s proposed 2003 budget projects a yawning deficit. NWU Delegates, after tumultuous discussion, vote to change NWU bylaws to accord with those of the UAW. Delegates vote to ratify new bylaws that centralize NWU finances.

The San Francisco/Bay Area Chapter publishes a 4-CD set of its Independent Publishing Seminar, featuring 14 experts analyzing self-publishing realities and opportunities.


An NWU campaign vigorously opposes AOL/Time Warner for revised freelance journalist contract that allows the company to reissue their writing in any media without additional compensation.

NWU helps craft U.S. Labor Against the War’s anti-Iraq War resolution, which is passed by the AFL-CIO at its national convention. This is the first time in U.S. history that the AFL-CIO has come out in opposition to a war while it is being fought.

New Jersey Chapter holds a “Writing for Our Rights: Writers and Activists in Support of Civil Rights,” a conference at Rutgers University focusing on Middle Eastern, East Asian, and Muslim-American writers and how writer and activists can respond to post 9/11 attacks on civil rights, overseas and domestic .

Philadelphia holds a conference for medical writers. NWU adds an online forum for medical writers to its list of genre-specific forums for sharing information and advice.


Bay Area Chapter’s campaign expands into a national "Offshoring Justice" campaign, to make a case that tech jobs relating to personal health and national defense information should not be offshored. Over 600 members and non-members send letters to legislators to press for legislation.

Washington DC Chapter succeeds in getting the city’s licensing requirement, which applied to freelance writers and other independent contractors, eliminated. The licensing requirement was reinstated several years later without notice or hearings.

The International Federation of Journalists convened in Athens, Greece, unanimously passes NWU President Jerry Colby’s resolution to endorse the collective bargaining rights of freelance journalists in the United States and NWU's efforts to secure those rights.

The At Large and Boston Chapters support writers affected by Katrina, collaborating with Gulf Coast writers to get books to writers who lost theirs in the hurricane and flood. Members donate hundreds of books.


As a follow-up to Tasini v.The New York Times, a separate class-action lawsuit designed to reimburse all writers whose work was illegally converted from print to electronic media goes forward. Writers, both those who registered their work with the Copyright Office and those who did not, are asked to submit extensive documentation proving that their work has been infringed.

NWU co-sponsors first Arab-American Writers Conference at Hunter College, New York City.

As the Internet becomes the premier mode of communication, NWU shifts from a national print newsletter, American Writer, to regular and timely e-bulletins, and later to NWUsletter, the union’s current monthly e-newsletter.



NWU President Jerry Colby testifies on proposed orphan works legislation and opposes the U.S. Copyright Office's proposal to allow copying of copyrighted works without the rights owner's knowledge or permission, when the author cannot be reached for permission within a limited time period.

NWU posts advice on print-on-demand (POD) publishing including advantages and disadvantages and a comparison of major vendors.

Physics Today settles with a NWU member who was dismissed in 2000 after publishing a controversial book. The Washington DC Chapter had protested his dismissal, citing his free speech rights.

The NWU calls for the release of Jill Carroll, a freelance journalist for the Christian Science Monitor who was kidnapped on the outskirts of Bagdad.  She was eventually released.

New York Chapter launches a free summer writing institute for members of New York unions; and, in the program’s second year, publishes a collection of the participants’ writing.



The Grievance and Contract Division has now won a record $1.4 million for its members.

The NWU calls on Simon & Schuster to abandon recent changes to its standard author contract that violate the principle that a publisher should retain rights to a book only if it continues to invest significantly in the work. The issue is how to define when a work is out of print.  The S&S asserts that its POD capacity allows it to retain rights indefinitely. NWU President Colby calls it a "naked power grab." Other writers' organizations join the protest. The publisher backtracks.

The Book Division forms a Digital Issues Rights Task Force to draw up a bill of rights that affirms writers’ rights in the electronic age. The NWU protests Google Book’s digitization of books without the consent of the copyright holders, infringing on copyright and impacting writers' incomes.  Google Book has already scanned millions of books without the authors’ consent.

Profound changes in the book and newspaper industries, and the rise of the Internet, impact freelance writers’ ability to be paid well. Facing a financial and leadership crisis, the NWU votes to be placed under UAW administratorship. Deep cuts to elected officer stipends follow. UAW Region 9a Director Bob Madore declares: "I will not let the NWU die under my watch."

Activists lobby in support of federal shield law whose definition of a journalist is broad enough to protect freelancers against subpoenas that demand they reveal their sources, and calls for freelancer Josh Wolf’s release after more than seven months in custody for refusing to testify about or to hand over videos of a violent demonstration he reported on.

The 2nd edition of the union’s Guide to Book Contracts features new sections on academic writing, book packaging, POD and children's books, and literary small press. NWU pioneers Internet-based teleconferences for writers with disabilities, primarily for blind and visually impaired writers. The Written Word Workshop forums, funded by the union and led by Sanford Rosenthal, results in publication of Behind Our Eyes: Stories, Poems and Essays by Writers with Disabilities. 

New York Chapter offers members radio interview opportunities via Co- Chair Louise Reyes Rivera’s radio show.  Boston Chapter holds a monthly cable TV interview with first-time authors.

Southeast Michigan Chapter holds NWU workshops for the American Federation of Teachers.


NWU joins over 60 organizations in opposing two orphan works acts that permit and even encourage wide-scale infringements while depriving creators of protections currently available under the Copyright Act.

NWU protests Amazon’s BookSurge program that requires print on demand (POD) authors and publishers to use its print-on-demand division if they want to sell their POD tiles on Amazon.com.

NWU launches a campaign to warn writers about low wage/no wage online “content farms” that dangle micro amounts of pay to writers willing to contribute material. NWU offers, to members only, a Dollar (or more) a Word Publication List of better paying markets.

NWU with UAW support sues on behalf of dozens of writers, graphic artists and editors who produced a textbook for the Texas school system for Inkwell Publishing Solutions, a Houghton Mifflin development firm that had closed down without paying the $360,000 owed 60 freelancers.

NWU provides support to best-selling author Sherry Argov in her dispute with Adams Media. An arbitrator awards the member $209,000 after finding that the publisher had engaged in “unfair and deceptive business practices” by failing to cooperate with her attempts to review her royalty records.



NWU takes the lead in opposing a private settlement among Google, the Authors Guild and the American Publishers Association, referred to as the “Google Book Settlement” (GBS). Eventually, two other writers’ groups join the NWU in protesting GBS. Author Ursula LeGuin quits the Authors Guild in protest and urges writers to join the National Writers Union. The court finds against the settlement: the parties seek to renegotiate the settlement.



The Supreme Court holds that the District Court had jurisdiction to accept the $18 million settlement of a second class action suit stemming from their landmark 2001 decision in the Tasini v. NY Times. The case is remanded to the Second Circuit for further proceedings.  The NWU’s voice in opposing the Google Book Settlement is asserted in a brief when the GBS finally goes before the courts.

The Book Division calls on publishers to revise royalty statements so that royalties are paid using 21st century electronic technology, not 19th century accounting techniques.

NWU leaders meet with the federal Intellectual Property  Enforcement Coordinator to advocate prosecuting publishers who criminally violate writers copyright sand contract agreements.

NWU participates in IFRRO (International Reproductive Rights Organization) conference, U.S. Social Forum, Media Reform Conference, United Association of Labor Educators Conference, Allied Media Conference, Killer Nashville.

Health insurance (not group) is again available to members in all states. NWU continues to endorse legislation to institute a single-payer health care system that would cover every resident and eliminate high overhead and profits of the current private health insurance industry and HMOs.

NWU launches webinars that allow members around the country to participate via a conference call and a PowerPoint display on their home computers. Topics so far: ABC’s of Negotiating Contracts and Protecting Copyright, Self-Publishing, and Blogging Basics.



NWU launches a campaign to support Huffington Post writers demanding that they be paid for their writing/posts. Many regular HuffPo contributors and organizations boycott the online publication.

Affirming the NWU’s and others’ opposition to the Google Book Settlement, the court finds against it, and AG and APA are charged with revising one of the most contentious terms so that authors can opt into the agreement rather than being forced to opt out. However, AG and APA are unable to reach such an agreement with Google so it is likely they will withdraw the suit.

An appeals court upholds the $18 million class-action settlement for writers who were not paid for electronic use of their work, which has gone through several legal ups and downs since 2004. However, the case is still being contested in the courts, and the writers have yet to receive the monies owed them.

NWU steps up contacts with academic authors, who can benefit from member-only resources such as free book contract reviews/advice, grievance backup, and guides to negotiating with publishers and agents.

Tucson Chapter vigorously opposes Arizona's immigration restrictions. NWU protests anti-ethnic studies legislation, which effectively bans member Rodolfo Acuna’s widely-used textbook Occupied America: A History of Chicanos. Opponents claim to object to ethnic studies programs as advocating group identification over individualism, a false accusation. The ethnic studies programs in Tucson graduate  97.5% of their students, 77% of whom go on to college.

The NWU and our parent union, the UAW, support Occupy Wall Street demonstrations throughout the country, in which thousands of demonstrators identify as “the 99%” and protest wealth inequities that profit “the 1%.”

The National Writers Union celebrates its 30th anniversary with public programs in a number of chapters, including Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, and Washington DC.


“Freelance writers can’t win alone. It takes collective action.

That’s why freelancers need the National Writers Union.”

NWU President Larry Goldbetter

Thanks to the individual members, staff, and officers, who over the past 30 years saw what mattered to writers, and used their skills and passion to galvanize members to collective action. Every one of these NWU highlights started with you. -- Barbara Beckwith, Boston Chapter Co-Chair; National Executive Board; member since 1984.


NWU Presidents

Andrea Eagan 1983-1987

Alec Dubro 1987-1990

Jonathan Tasini 1990-2003

Marybeth Menaker (Acting President) 2003

Gerard Colby 2004-2009

Larry Goldbetter 2009-present


NWU archives are housed at New York University’s Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, an internationally-known center for scholarly research on Labor and the Left. Early papers from the San Francisco Bay Area Local are housed at the Labor Archives & Research Center at San Francisco State University.

Editorial note: back in the day, chapters were called “locals.” In 2003, in conformity with UAW rules, we renamed our city or region-based entities “chapters.” In this timeline, we use current “chapter” wording throughout.


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