NEW YORK CITY November 18 – As part of the Interfaith Worker Justice Day of Action Against Wage Theft, about 30 former Inkwell workers filed their case in federal court for over $360,000 in back wages. The freelance writers, translators, graphic artists and editors worked for Inkwell Solutions, a “development house” used by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to outsource the production of textbooks. In 2009 the workers completed a textbook project for the Texas school systems, in English and Spanish. Inkwell closed their doors and the owners tried to skip town without paying the freelancers.
The Inkwell workers started meeting with NWU at the end of June, 2009. This has been a long struggle that is not done yet. The workers have stuck together through thick and thin, with each other and with the NWU. Today’s filing in federal court was made possible when our parent union, the United Auto Workers (UAW), hired the firm of Levy Ratner, P.C. to represent the Inkwell freelancers. Some were also represented in the appeals after initially being denied Unemployment Insurance benefits.
On the eve of her appeal hearing for unemployment benefits one Inkwell worker wrote, “Thank you so much for whatever part the Union played in the decision to have Alex get involved in my unemployment hearing. Alex spent hours with me Thursday reviewing paperwork and discussing my situation. I am SO grateful that he is coming to the hearing with me tomorrow. Regardless of the outcome for me personally, I know he is trying to get some information on the record to help with the group lawsuit. I'm glad if my individual challenge can help in any way…Thank you again so very much for the Union's support. Within the next few days, I will take the long overdue step of joining the Union!!!”
She won her appeal and did join the union.
Outsourcing has become a universal problem from auto manufacturing to the IT service industry. In general it means lower wages and less security for workers. The growth of “development houses” in the textbook industry poses many potential dangers for freelancers and a potential organizing opportunity for NWU as we meet these challenges. If you or someone you know has had a similar experience in a “development house,” please let us know.