Welcome to the National Writers Union

The National Writers Union UAW Local 1981 is the only labor union that represents freelance writers.

Now, more than ever, with the consolidation of power into the hands of ever-larger corporate entities and with the advent of technologies that facilitate the exploitation of a writer’s work, writers need an organization with the clout and know-how to protect our interests. One that will forge new rules for a new era.

Combining the strength of more than 1,200 members in our 13 chapters with the support of the United Automobile Workers, the NWU works to advance the economic and working conditions of all writers.  Our members also directly benefit from the many valuable services the Union offers—including grievance assistance, contract advice, and much more—while actively contributing to a growing movement of professional freelancers who have banded together to assert their collective power.

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Special Announcements

10/05/2012 - 8:00am

The National Writers Union today strongly endorsed the objections to major book publishers' treatment of e-book licensing terms made public last week in an open letter from the American Library Association.

"Readers need to know that the unfair demands of publishers, not writers, are the obstacle to library availability and lending of e-books," announced NWU President Larry Goldbetter.

Earlier this year, Goldbetter and other NWU leaders met with the president and other national leaders of the ALA to discuss librarians' and authors' mutual grievances against publishers' e-book licensing and royalty terms. "We've made clear to the ALA that the NWU is eager to work with libraries to enable writers to license e-books directly to libraries and to enable library catalogs to include pointers about e-book editions available directly from authors," Goldbetter said. "If writers are able to keep our fair share of e-book revenues, we can offer libraries lower-priced, more flexible e-book licenses than those offered by publishers, which will make it possible for more writers to earn a living from our work."

The ALA's letter focuses on several major publishers' refusal to "sell" e-books, and insistence on restrictive e-book licensing terms prohibiting library lending.

But those same publishers are reporting e-book revenues as "sales" when they calculate authors' royalties, the NWU found in a survey of its members. The NWU denounced publishers' hypocrisy in telling readers and librarians that e-books are licensed, not sold, while paying authors as though e-books were sold, not licensed.

"Publishers can't have it both ways. Publishers either have to treat e-book transactions as true sales that grant buyers 'first sale' rights for lending and resale, or they have to split e-book revenues with authors according to the licensing clauses in existing contracts, " demanded Goldbetter.

Until recently, typical author-publisher contracts entitled authors to 5-15 percent of revenues for "sales" of print books and 50 percent of revenues for "licensing" of other subsidiary rights, including electronic uses or e-books.

As revenues from e-book licensing have begun to surpass print book sales, publishers have been pressuring authors to agree to contract amendments reducing e-book royalties from 50 percent to a new norm, unilaterally imposed by publishers, of 25 percent of net proceeds. Most publishers' current contracts limit e-book royalties to 25 percent of net.

"It's one thing for publishers to keep most of the price of a physical book to cover the costs of printing and distribution," Goldbetter noted. �But it's unconscionable for publishers to claim anything close to the same percentage of e-book revenues when they have no printing, binding, warehousing, or shipping costs."

"Publishers need to honor the subsidiary rights' royalty terms they agreed to in existing contracts for their backlists, and substantially increase the e-book royalty percentage for new books. Seventy-five percent for the author and 25 percent for the publisher would more accurately reflect how much each has invested in the joint venture."

10/03/2012 - 9:07pm

The National Writers Union (United Auto Workers) supports our brothers and sisters at Haaretz in fighting back against mass layoffs and management's refusal to bargain.  As we insist in our Pay the Writer campaign, changes in the news industry do not justify unfair treatment of journalists, the essential element of the business.
Larry Goldbetter, President, NWU   

Learn more here

10/03/2012 - 11:51am

Dept. of Justice E-Book Price-Fixing Settlement with Publishers Leaves Collusion Against Writers Unpunished

September 10, 2012

The anti-trust settlement approved September 7 in the Department of Justice case against major publishers, which accused them of colluding with Apple to fix prices for e-books through "agency pricing," resolves some of the pricing and revenue-sharing disputes between e-book publishers and distributors. However, the National Writers Union contends that the settlement fails to address publishers' more significant and harmful collusion against writers which deprives them of their fair share of e-book revenues.

The three publishers that have agreed to the settlement (Hachette, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster; Penguin and Macmillan are continuing to oppose the DOJ lawsuit) have committed to allow any e-book distributor – mainly Amazon, which has garnered 90 percent of the e-book market – to set end-user licensing fees for individual e-books below cost, so long as the distributor's total income exceeds its costs, aggregated over all the e-books it distributes during any 12-month period.

"What matters to writers is not how much each end-user pays for a license to an e-book, but what, if any, share of that revenue is passed on to e-book  authors," says NWU President Larry Goldbetter. "This settlement and the DOJ lawsuit do nothing about the ongoing collusion among publishers to deprive writers of our fair share of e-book revenues."

Writers have already been squeezed by many publishers into accepting contract amendments or clauses in new contracts that limit their e-book royalties to 25 percent of publishers' net receipts. At the same time, publishers are systematically violating existing contracts by paying writers of backlist works the same royalty percentage for e-book licenses as for sales of physical books – as little as 5 to 10 percent – rather than the 50 percent revenue share of subsidiary rights licensing revenues usually stipulated in writers’ contracts.

The NWU urges the Department of Justice to take action against publishers for contract and copyright violations and for conspiring against writers in ways that restrain trade.

“It's no coincidence that large and small presses across the country have all decided to cap e-book royalties at the same 25 percentage. And it's no coincidence that they're all misinterpreting their backlist contracts in exactly the same way -- to reduce writers' e-book royalties at a time when e-books sales account for an ever-increasing share of publishers’ revenue,” states Goldbetter.

"It's one thing for publishers and distributors to keep most of the price of a physical book to cover the costs of printing and distribution. But it's unconscionable for publishers or distributors to claim anything close to the same percentage of e-book revenues when they have no printing, binding, warehousing, or shipping costs."

Readers also suffer from publishers' attempts to "have their cake and eat it too" with e-book licensing terms, according to the NWU. Publishers have told librarians e-books are licensed not sold, and the license terms don't allow library lending. Amazon says explicitly,  "Kindle Content is licensed, not sold, to you by the Content Provider." At the same time, the NWU has found that many publishers are reporting e-book transactions as "sales" rather than "licenses" on authors’ royalty statements to avoid paying the higher 50 percent licensing royalty in most contracts.

“The mission of the National Writers Union is to promote the economic well-being of freelance writers as we did when we won the 2001 Supreme Court ruling Tasini v. The New York Times, which established that writers must be paid for electronic uses, in addition to print uses, of their work," added Goldbetter. “That’s why we have to expose publishers' illegal actions and demand that writers receive equitable royalties for both books and e-books.”


09/28/2012 - 1:55pm

24 September 2012

Dear Arthur, Jill and Mark,

Eighteen months after our contracts expired, we stand at the threshold of crisis. Our duty to the institution and to you is to speak plainly.  The company’s demands are untenable and destructive.

Last week, Times negotiators once again insisted on major cuts to our wages and benefits. These demands differ only in degree from earlier ones, with an ugly new twist. They come with a threat of impasse.

We implore you: do not permit The New York Times to be steered any closer to this abyss. This penny-wise path will leave us and the company worse off,  eroding the quality of our journalism now and in the future. The clock is ticking, as Bernie Plum has said. Indeed it is. We already see talented colleagues regularly being hired away because they can no longer afford to work here.

In March, the company’s chief labor executive, Terry Hayes, wrote:

“And the most important thing we can do is to eliminate the expense, risk and volatility of the defined-benefit pension plans.”

In response, the Guild proposed a new kind of plan that virtually eliminated volatility and risk to the company. Indeed, the risk was shifted to us, along with shrunken benefits.  The company has accepted this zero-risk, zero-volatility plan, but stunningly, now demands severe cuts in retirement contributions.

We have been asked for work rule revisions, job description reform, a single contract to cover print and digital employees. In almost every case, the Guild agreed. We believe our written agreement should catch up with the agile, enterprising spirit of the newsroom where, for instance, most meaningful distinctions between print and digital journalists have already been erased.

Still, the Times demands cuts to our compensation and threatens impasse.

Over the last eight years, while company revenues were declining, the cost of wages and benefits dropped even faster. In 2009, Arthur asked us to accept a 5% pay cut. We said yes, by a vote of 427 to 36.  Overtime is down by half since 2008.  Yet the news report in The New York Times, online and in print, is richer and more rewarding than ever.

We are doing more but making less.

For us, the most important thing is that you end the era of shriveling compensation. We urge you: step back from this corrosive, needless crisis.  Consider the relief that The Times has already won in these talks. Reflect on the revelations of this past decade. It wasn’t luck or brand legacy that allowed this great institution to make the transition to a digital era during an economic collapse. It was the people of The Times, working seven days a week, around the clock.

This generation of Times journalists has more than earned fair wages and benefits. The next generation expects them. You will need that generation every bit as much as you needed – and need – this one.

We will accept nothing less.

Through two wars, multi-nation revolutions, mass political polarization, and global economic turmoil, we all, managers and employees, have rallied to provide the world’s premier news coverage, and to persevere and succeed in business.

Terry Hayes told us what your “most important thing” is. We believed you. Now we have told you what ours is.

Believe us.

For a list of signers (512 as of 9/28/12) click here

09/18/2012 - 10:04am

Paul MacArthur, NWU VP (External Organizing): "Perhaps surprisingly, a byline error 'is not that uncommon,' notes MacArthur of the National Writers Union, responding in email to my questions. 'It’s happened to me a few times over the years' – and it’s 'exceptionally frustrating,' making it hard to use the work in a portfolio.(by Erik Gunn) See article here


09/11/2012 - 11:21pm



256 West 38th Street, Suite 703 · New York, NY 10018 · 212-254-0279 · www.nwu.org

September 11, 2012


The National Writers Union/UAW Local 1981, extends our strong support to the 30,000 members of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) in their struggle against the Board of the Chicago Public School System and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. 

A battle has been raging in this country to replace public education with for-profit charter schools.  This has been pushed by both the Republican and Democratic parties, as reflected by Republican VP candidate Paul Ryan’s support of Democratic Mayor Rahm Emmanuel in this fight.

The CTU has taken a brave stand, supporting students and teachers against this corporate attack.  We support the teachers’ demands for:

·         An evaluation system that is based on what the teachers can control;

·         Resources for teaching (160 schools have no libraries);

·         Recall rights for laid off members (who are often laid off because of working in “under-performing” schools, having nothing to do with their skills or                    performance),

·         Additional support staff (social workers have caseloads of 1,000, and most schools have no nurse),

·         A promised pay increase to cover the extended work day imposed by “Mayor 1%.”

NWU members have walked the picket lines with you; we’ve leafleted for you; we’ve joined in your demonstrations. We know the importance of a good union, with a democratically-elected leadership that has a vision of how the world can be, rather than merely dreading what it has become.

We extend our support and offer our writing skills to the courageous leadership and members of the Chicago Teachers Union, Local 1 of the American Federation of Teachers.  Your struggle is our struggle.  You can count on us to help you beat back the attack on public education, and set an example for the entire US labor movement!

In militant solidarity!

Larry Goldbetter

Larry Goldbetter, President

National Writers Union/UAW Local 1981

09/10/2012 - 7:41pm

Media Release

08 September 2012

IFJ Takes Campaign for Journalists’ Safety to UN General Assembly with Call to End Impunity

The IFJ yesterday took the first step to launch a new high-level campaign aimed at the General Assembly of the United Nations on the protection and safety of journalists. An IFJ delegation led by its president Jim Boumelha was received yesterday by the President of General Assembly Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser of Qatar as part of a coalition that came together following a conference on journalists held in Doha last January under the aegis of the Qatar National Human Rights Committee.

The coalition included the IFJ delegation comprising its president, Omar Faruk, President of the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ), Celso Schroder, President of the Federación de Periodistas de América Latina y el Caribe (Fepalc), and Nestor Burgos Jr , chair of IFJ member union in the Philippines, the National Union of Journalists; Mohamed Makram, General Secretary of the Federation of Arab Journalists; Gianfranco Fattorini representing the Geneva-based Press Emblem Campaign; and Ali Bin Samikh Al-Marri, Chair of the Qatar National Human Rights Committee.

“The killing of journalists continues to increase worldwide despite the plethora of international instruments, international human rights laws, universal human rights laws, covenants, declarations and resolutions which are simply ignored by many governments,” said Jim Boumelha “Our message to the General Assembly is to use whatever mechanisms it has in its power to force member states to discharge rigorously their responsibility under international laws to protect journalists and put a stop to impunity.”

Since the Security Council passed the much acclaimed resolution 1738 on the safety of journalists in conflict and impunity, over 600 journalists have died, the great majority of which murdered in their own countries. 

This message was echoed by the General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser at an ensuing news conference saying, ”It is unacceptable that journalists are being murdered every year but the killers often go free”. He added, “I strongly support the efforts of the Committee and encourage all peace-loving member states, civil society actors and the media sector to support endeavours leading to the endorsement of the recommendation of the [Doha] conference”.

The recommendations, resulting from the Doha conference were distributed by President  Al-Nasser to all the 193 members of the UN. They ask the United Nations to develop new binding tools for States to accept a standing obligation to protect journalists, to adopt reforms to its mechanisms and procedures such as through regional security organisations, expanding the mandates of Special Rapporteurs and relevant bodies, develop further monitoring, intrusive inspections and mandatory sanctions and finally create a unit to follow up media cases at the Human Rights Council.

“We need renewed action by the UN to start forcing member states to implement current provisions but to also develop new tools. It is clear that the incremental approach has proven insufficient and the IFJ will be spearheading moves to plug the gaps that allowed impunity to flourish,” added Boumelha.

Nestor Burgos made a special appeal to the General Assembly President on behalf of JUSTICE NOW!, the coalition of the families of the 32 journalists murdered in Ampatuan two years ago, and handed a letter from the families asking the General Assembly to help them achieve justice and expedite the prosecution and conviction of those involved in the massacre.

Omar Faruk raised the deteriorating situation for journalists in Somalia where seven journalists have been murdered this year, making it the most dangerous country for journalists in Africa.

Celso Schroder highlighted the press fatalities in Mexico which remain among the highest in the world, leading to vast self-censorship and the catastrophic situation for journalists since the 2009 coup in Honduras where government has been slow and negligent in pursuing journalists' killers.

The IFJ’s new initiative at the UN takes place as UNESCO launched a consultation on a new Plan on the Safety of Journalists and Combating Impunity.

For more information, please contact IFJ on + 32 2 235 22 07
The IFJ represents more than 600.000 journalists in 134 countries

09/05/2012 - 12:19pm
For Immediate Release
Contact: Paul J. MacArthur,  pmacarthur@nwu.org


NEW YORK (September 4, 2012) - Paul J. MacArthur, Vice President of External Organizing and Assistant National Contract Advisor of the National Writers Union, will be conducting a contract and negotiation workshop at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida on October 1, 2012 as part of Poynter's Writing and Selling Your Freelance Stories seminar.

The NWU contract and negotiation workshop will teach writers how to examine freelance contracts, negotiate better deals, and avoid contract language that can cause unforeseen problems. Freelancers will learn what terms they can't live without and what clauses absolutely must go.

"Many of the issues between freelancers and publishers are the result of bad contracts," says MacArthur. "By learning how to spot troublesome contract language and negotiate better deals, writers can avoid the pitfalls associated with bad contracts and make more money."

The Poynter Institute is one of the nation's top schools for professional journalists and news media leaders, as well as future journalists and journalism teachers. Poynter's Writing and Selling Your Freelance Stories seminar is designed to help writers, primarily those in the freelance market, tell better stories and sell them. For more information about the Writing and Selling Your Freelance Stories seminar, including potential partial scholarships, go to:  http://about.poynter.org/training/in-person/w401d-12

"I'm excited to present a contract and negotiation workshop at the Poynter Institute, which is known for its high quality journalism education," says MacArthur. "The most common refrain I hear from published writers is, 'I wish I attended your workshop before I signed my contract.' Whatever you do, don't sign on the dotted line without attending this workshop."

About the National Writers Union: Formed in 1981, the National Writers Union (UAW 1981) represents freelance writers in all genres, including fiction, poetry, academic writing, technical writing, screen writing, opinion, and journalism. The NWU offers free contract advice and grievance assistance to its members. The NWU's Grievance Officers have won members more than $1.49 million in grievance awards. To contact the National Writers Union, call (212) 254-0279, send an email to nwu@nwu.org, or send regular mail to 256 West 38th Street, Suite 703, New York, NY 10018. 

08/10/2012 - 1:40pm

On August 10, 2012, the NWU submitted comments to the White House "Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator" (IPEC) in response to a call for public input regarding the administration's strategic plan for intellectual property enforcement:

These comments continue the NWU's involvement in consultations with IPEC. In 2010, the NWU submitted comments in response to IPEC's initial call for suggested priorities for the newly-established IPEC office. In 2011, NWU representatives met with the IPEC and her staff to renew our call for action to protect and enforce writers' rights against infringements.

According to the NWU's latest submission to IPEC,"Copyrights are useless to writers if, as is the case today, they are effectively unenforceable.... The patterns of infringement we identified in our written comments and our meeting with the IPEC continue unabated, with no visible effort by the U.S. government to protect our rights as writers."

The NWU calls for concrete actions including:

  1. Establishment of a copyright small claims court;
  2. Criminal prosecution of large, sophisticated commercial publishers and intermediaries who traffic in infringing digital copies without actually holding rights to do so;
  3.  Recognition of digital and other self-publication as "normal commercial exploitation" of written and other work, protected by the Berne Convention;
  4. Diplomatic effort to enforce the rights of US writers under the Berne Convention against foreign laws permitting copying of "orphan" or "out of print" works; and
  5. Respect for the rights of writers in development of US schemes for "orphan" works.

The NWU will continue to pursue this agenda with the IPEC and Congress.

Links to the IPEC dockets are available on the NWU Book Division website.


08/01/2012 - 9:52pm

Sixth Annual Split This Rock Poetry Festival - March 27-30, 2014

Deadline November 1, 2012 for Split This Rock Poetry Festival: March 27-30, 2014. Split This Rock seeks "socially engaged poems, poems that reach beyond the self to connect with the larger community or world; poems of provocation and witness. This theme can be interpreted broadly and may include but is not limited to work addressing politics, economics, government, war, leadership; issues of identity (gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, disability, body image, immigration, heritage, etc.); community, civic engagement, education, activism; and poems about history, Americana, cultural icons." Click here for more information


Union News

08/31/2009 - 12:45am
National Writers Union Opposes Settlement of Class-Action Lawsuit Against Google for Copyright Infringement  (Press release dated Aug. 13, 2009)
 The National Writers Union today announced its opposition to the proposed $125 million settlement of a class-action copyright infringement lawsuit brought by writers and publishers against Google because its massive book-scanning project violated their copyrights.
05/22/2008 - 1:37am

NEW YORK—Barbara Kingsolver is pleased to announce the 2008 winner of the Bellwether Prize for Fiction. Heidi W. Durrow of Los Angeles will receive the $25,000 award for her unpublished novel, and the opportunity to work with an editor at this prize cycle’s participating publisher, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. The Bellwether Prize is awarded biennially to a promising first-time novelist working in the tradition of socially engaged literature.

04/16/2008 - 1:30am

Recently, Amazon announced that it is requiring on-demand publishers and authors to use its print-on-demand (POD) division, BookSurge, if they want to sell their titles as print-on-demand on Amazon.com.

04/07/2008 - 1:26am

On October 29 a majority of a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeal rejected the $18 million settlement reached in March 2005 after two years of heated negotiations between freelance writers and publishers over electronic copyright infringements involving unauthorized sales over the Internet of writers’ copyrighted works.

03/24/2008 - 1:22am
Every worker has the right to a job at a living wage. That right must be respected by the bosses, who, driven by corporate greed, want to cut your wages nearly in half as well as decimate your current benefits.
02/07/2008 - 1:15am

 The National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981, the nation’s only trade union dedicated to advocating for the rights and economic betterment of freelance writers, stands in solidarity with our brother and sister writers of the Writers Guild of America

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