In a company-wide memo sent on January 25, HarperCollins announced that it has reached an agreement with its employee union to have a mutually-agreed-upon independent mediator take over labor negotiations. With more than 200 union employees on strike since November 10, the company said that it hopes a mediator will be able to clear “a path forward” for employees to return to work.
“We entered negotiations eager to find common ground, and we have remained committed to achieving a fair and reasonable contract throughout this process,” reads the memo from HC's v-p of human resources, Zandra Magariño. “We are optimistic that a mutually agreed upon mediator can help find the solutions that have eluded us so far.”
The memo seemed to strike a different tone than the open letter from CEO Brian Murray published early last month, in which he argued that the union's demands for livable wages “failed to account for the market dynamics of the publishing industry” and the company’s “responsibility to meet the financial demands" of its business stakeholders. In contrast, Magariño's memo said that HarperCollins is “optimistic that a mutually agreed upon mediator can help find the solutions that have eluded us so far. HarperCollins has had a union for 80 years, with a long history of successful and fair contract negotiations. The company has the exact same goal now, and is actively working to achieve it.”
The union confirmed the mediator on Twitter, and in its own press release, this morning. “We are hopeful the company will use this opportunity to settle fairly and reset our relationship,” it wrote, adding: “This means our pressure campaign is working. The strike will continue until we reach a fair contract agreement. Please continue to hold the line.”
In its release, the union said that it has “not heard directly” from the company since their last bargaining session on November 2, and that news that negotiations could begin again was provided by the assigned mediator. In a press release sent out January 26, Local 2110 UAW president Olga Brudastova added that the mediator step is now an opportunity to “resolve any outstanding differences.”
“We are excited to have this opportunity to continue bargaining with HarperCollins and hope they finally are ready to put a fair offer on the table,” Brudastova said. But with both parties invited back to the negotiating table, she added that the union still plans to proceed with a rally on January 31 outside HC headquarters and on February 2, outside News Corp. offices, to be sure negotiations continue to move in the right direction.
The identity of the mediator has yet to be disclosed. HarperCollins's communications referred to the party as an “independent mediator,” while the HarperCollins union called it a “federal mediator.”
Labor negotiations between HarperCollins and the union began in December 2021, and unionized employees said that they have been working without a contract since April 2022. After failure to strike a deal, the union filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board in response to allegations that the company has been hiding its hiring practices from the union are still pending.
In October, the company announced that an unspecified number of jobs were eliminated at the publisher to cut costs. However, union representatives have directly pointed to the company's financials, and to the costs of living in New York, as part of its case to secure employees higher pay. Despite revenue for the company declining over several quarters this year, the company has experienced two years of solid growth according to previous financial reports.
Since walking out on November 10, the company's unionized employees have been picketing outside the company's headquarters in Manhattan while drumming up support in a social media campaign that has focused on livable wages for its New York employees. Last week, the union rallied outside the HQ of HarperCollins' parent company News Corp. in hopes of bringing the company back to the negotiating table.
“We are not asking for much. Our demands are extremely reasonable,” said Laura Harshberger, a senior production editor in children’s books and the union chairperson. “We see growing support from across the publishing industry and beyond that reassures us that what we are doing is right and worth fighting for. I am hopeful that entering mediation can lead to a fair contract and finally end the strike. But it is not over yet, because the ultimate goal is an agreement that addresses all of our demands.”
This article has been updated with further information.