This story first appeared in The Nation on December 8, 2022
The resurgence of American labor organizing has relied on solidarity beyond the bargaining unit—and that’s what we’re offering.
Today, more than 1,100 unionized newsroom employees at The New York Times will walk out, refusing to work for an entire day. For the past 20 months, they’ve been bargaining with management over basic issues like keeping wage increases in line with inflation and maintaining employee pensions. These workers deserve a fair contact. As freelancers for the New York Times and organizers with the Freelance Solidarity Project—the digital media division of the National Writers Union, more than 600 members strong—we and dozens of our fellow freelancers will be joining the one-day walkout in solidarity.
To some, this might seem counterintuitive. After all, freelancers aren’t full-time employees, and we aren’t members of the New York Times Guild, the union representing the workers walking off the job. But we stand with our media colleagues, who are fighting for what they’re owed. The resurgence of American labor organizing has relied on solidarity beyond the bargaining unit. In the same way that Teamsters delivery workers have refused to cross the UAW 2865 picket line of 48,000 academic workers at the University of California and full-time faculty at The New School have stopped teaching classes in solidarity with their almost 1,800 striking part-time colleagues, we refuse to help The New York Times continue business as usual.
It’s crucial, now more than ever, that freelancers refuse to be used as scab labor, serving as replacements when staff employees go on strike. The pitifully low rates offered to freelancers exist in part because media work overall has been so devalued. This also goes for the work of staffers at publications like the Times, which is among the few financially stable and profitable media companies, raking in $51 million in profit in the most recent quarter, even after recently acquiring The Athletic. Employees are seeking their fair share of the profits they’ve helped create. But bosses know that they can easily supplant staff work with inexpensive freelance labor—if we let them. The only way to improve working conditions for some of us is to improve working conditions for all of us. If we don’t, the media will continue to consolidate and shrivel into a legacy industry populated solely by those with the generational wealth needed to live in expensive cities on low salaries.
It is impossible to separate the concerns of staff, who commission freelance assignments, from those of the freelancers themselves. And staffers, after all, are once and future freelancers: Many media workers have been laid off two, three, or more times, moving from freelancer to staff and back again. Publications grow, then lose funding abruptly and get cut to the bone by private equity. This chaotic, ruthless cycle harms all of us. We freelancers are organizing alongside staff unions to ensure security for everyone laboring in media, no matter where and how they work.
We have already seen the benefits of this approach. After two years of bargaining and threatening to go on strike, The New Yorker union won a contract in 2021 that increased the base salary of the lowest paid workers by nearly $20,000 and gave them the protection of just-cause termination. Members of the Freelance Solidarity Project helped apply pressure on management by pledging not to cross the picket line if those employees were forced to go on strike. And in turn, staff unions have supported freelancers by negotiating for timelier payment, as VICE employees secured in a recent contract, and collaborating on unilateral announcements like the one the Freelance Solidarity Project recently negotiated at The Nation, which sets basic standards for the treatment of freelancers.
The past decade of labor organizing in the media industry has created tangible benefits in the lives of journalists, editors, producers, social media managers, researchers, and every other worker who contributes to places like The New York Times. For this movement to continue and to succeed, staff and freelancers must stand together. We organize for a simple reason: to build the industry that we want to see for all workers.