NWU President’s Report * October 2015

2015 Delegate Assembly

More than 50 members and guests attended the National Writers Union Delegate Assembly (DA) this summer in New York City. The delegates were selected from chapters around the country, and reflected a wealth of diversity in terms of age, race, and gender. We also welcomed new chapter chairs from New York; Washington, DC; Southeast Michigan; Chicago and Los Angeles. New chapter chairs from Washington State and Oregon were unable to attend.

In a show of international solidarity with the NWU, affiliates from the International Federation of Journalists sent greetings from around the world, including messages from Pakistan, Malaysia, Kenya and beyond.

The DA addressed the hard times writers face, as well as challenging times at the NWU. We also made decisive plans to move forward, including:

  • The Journalism Division, led by VP David Hill, invited Hamilton Nolan of the Writers Guild of America East/GAWKER organizing committee to address the DA. Hamilton invited us to offer suggestions for freelancer rates at GAWKER as they begin negotiating their first contract. David also reported on supporting the development of a mass database where journalists report what they were paid by a wide range of print and online publications, as a first step towards building a campaign for an industry-wide base pay rate, similar to the Fight for $15 Campaign that fast-food and other workers are pursuing.
  • Edward Hasbrouck and Susan E. Davis, the Book Division co-chairs, reported on the ongoing legislative campaign for copyright reform; the Authors Guild’s Fair Contract Initiative (see below); and proposed resolutions for an NWU Guide to Self-Publishing and an update of the NWU Guide to Book Contracts. Both resolutions passed. (A complete list of resolutions and by-law changes can be found here.)
  • The Grievance and Contract Division unveiled the first of three e-books webinars.
  • VP Pamela K. Johnson and Guide Amanda Wilson walked everyone through our new website and reported on the potential for increased organizing through social media, while VP Mauricio Niebla discussed our Spanish language writers’ project, which has attracted about 20 new members, and offers two creative-writing classes.
  • Our Community Action Program (CAP), Civil and Human Rights committee, and Women’s committee also met, electing new chairs for the coming term, while making plans to expand their work. Trustee Alecia Goodlow-Young (S.E. MI) will lead the Civil and Human Rights committee; Tucson, AZ, Chair Keith Bagwell and Recording Secretary Dan McCrory (SoCal) will lead CAP (political action); and Brigid O’Farrel (NoCal) and Aleah Barley (S.E. MI Chair) will lead the Women’s committee.
  • Guest speaker Bheravi Desai, leader of the 16,000-member NY Taxi Workers Alliance, addressed the assembly. The mostly immigrant NY cab drivers are all classified as private contractors, with no collective bargaining rights, and now face a massive threat from Uber’s unregulated, uninsured, part-time workforce. The taxi drivers and NWU members have similar plights. Given that by 2020, contingent workers will make up 40 percent of the U.S. workforce, NWU and the taxi alliance are starting to work together and are discussing the possibility of a Contingent Worker Conference.

The DA proved that, particularly in these arduous times, we must continue to press for better pay and protections in a union that represents all writers, in all genre, across all media.

Members Hit the Road
After the DA adjourned in NYC, some NWU continued their travels :

Authors Coalition of America

In mid-September, Trustee Alexandria Faiz and I attended the Authors Coalition of America (ACA) meeting in NYC. Alexandria has replaced Hoffman as our ACA designated rep. The first half of the session dealt with the “business” of the ACA, which is receiving and distributing royalties that are collected in countries around the world for U.S. authors. Those royalties are not author specific and are distributed to those member organizations of the ACA in an effort to advance copyright protection and writers’ interests.

During the second half of the meeting, participants discussed the Authors Guild’s (AG) Fair Contract Initiative, which is pushing for 50 percent e-book royalties and other improvements in book contracts. The latest installment is here .

NWU, along with ASJA and SFWA, have been working and lobbying for many of the same issues, long before the new AG initiative, particularly with regards to 50 percent e-book royalties, and lobbying for a federal small-claims court, where authors can challenge millionaire publishers over copyright violations. Because of our collective history of advocacy, we welcome the Fair Contract Initiative and will add our name to an AG coalition letter endorsing it.