With unionized HarperCollins employees now into the 19th day of their strike against the publisher, president and CEO Brian Murray has addressed the details behind the company's stalled negotiations with the United Auto Workers union that represents those employees in an "open letter to authors and agents." Murray's letter comes after a number of authors and agents have issued statements of support for the union, prompting Murray to say that he feels "we owe you a response" and wants to "share some additional background" on why a deal still has not been reached.
According to union representatives, a sticking point in negotiations has been on salary and benefits packages. Addressing those demands, Murray says that the company believes that their "current compensation offerings are consistent with our peers in the publishing industry." He also shared that the company proposed what they believed was a "fair and reasonable pay structure, including increases to entry level salaries," during recent negotiations with the union.
According to Murray, HC's proposed pay structure would give entry-level employees a higher starting salary than at any other New York publisher. He added, "As well, we offer a minimum of six and a half weeks paid time off for all full-time employees (increasing with tenure), four 'work from anywhere' weeks, overtime pay for those qualifying, and generous health and wellness benefits."
Murray wrote that the contract demands made by United Auto Workers, "which are many and far reaching," failed to "account for the market dynamics of the publishing industry, and our responsibility to meet the financial demands of all our business stakeholders—including all employees, authors, and booksellers."
Murray explained, "As with the entire industry, HarperCollins continues to contend with ongoing challenges to publishing and its underlying economics." According to AAP statistics, through September trade sales were down 3.3% from a year ago. Earlier this fall, HC reported that for the quarter ending September 30 revenue declined by 11% after two years of solid growth. The company's earnings also dropped by 54%. In October, HarperCollins cut an unspecified number of jobs to reduce costs. According to the union, the positions of six union members were eliminated in those cuts, and the union filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board in response to the company's failure to strike a deal.
According to Murray, another snag in negotiations has to do with union dues. Murray explained that the United Auto Workers demands include a Union Security clause in their contract with the company. Murray said that "such clauses typically require substantial union dues to be paid by all UAW-represented employees, including every person who may later be hired into a union job." The clause would also require HarperCollins, at the union's demand, to "terminate any employee who does not pay them their dues."
"We strongly believe that each HarperCollins employee should have the right to make their own choice whether or not to pay dues to the United Auto Workers," said Murray.
Murray noted that since its last agreement with the union, HC has "made deliberate and substantial increases to employee pay, raising entry level salaries by 25 percent over approximately three years," as well as providing merit increases for all employees, including union employees, despite not having reached an agreement on a new contract.
"We are disappointed an agreement has not yet been reached, and we have not heard directly from union leadership about the contract since our last bargaining session," Murray wrote. He added, "It is disheartening that the UAW has chosen to mischaracterize the status of negotiations through social media posts, when in reality the company extended an offer to union leadership to meet again before the strike began but was not taken up on this offer."
Still, Murray wrote that the publisher remains ready to continue its negotiations with the union when the time comes that they are both willing to reach an agreement on a contract "that is fair to both employees and the company."
In response to Murray's statement, UAW president Olga Brudastova said that HarperCollins has "once again attempted to third-party the Union and pick and choose numbers and facts to serve their argument that the strike is unjustified."
"But we know this is not true," said Brudastova, "and our supporters, including authors and agents, know that as well."
She continued, "Our last exchange in negotiations was the company rejecting our comprehensive proposal that presented a clear pathway to a fair contract and addressed our core demands. It is disheartening that HarperCollins Publishers choose to hold on to their decision-making power even on issues like union security—a demand that doesn’t cost them any money and receives overwhelming support from our members.”