HarperCollins workers strike for increased wages, benefits and diversity
By Elizabeth A. Harris and Alexander Alter
HarperCollins union members went on a one-day strike Wednesday, with around 100 employees and additional supporters marching in front of the company’s corporate headquarters in New York City in the sticky heat for higher wages, better family leave benefits and a stronger commitment to diversity from the company.
Publishing has long offered meager wages to entry and midlevel employees, making it difficult to live in New York City, where the industry is based, without a second job or financial support from a spouse or family.
Many workers say that the low wages also make it hard for potential employees who don’t come from wealth to consider a career in publishing, which hampers efforts to diversify the mostly white industry.
“I love my job, I love my authors, it’s an incredible privilege to get to work on these books, and I would love to do it for the rest of my life, if I can afford to,” said Stephanie Guerdan, an associate editor in the children’s department who joined the strike.
But with a salary of $56,000 a year, she said, she worries she won’t be able to stay.
“There’s a running joke in publishing that you have to have a rich partner to be able to make it in the industry,” she said. “That should be a thing of the past.”
A spokesperson for HarperCollins declined to comment on contract negotiations, which have been going on since December 2021.
In a statement, the union said that its members, who were mostly women, earn an average of $55,000 per year, with a starting salary of $45,000. Many employees, it added, feel pressure to work long hours without any additional compensation.
The union, part of United Auto Workers, represents more than 250 employees who work in the editorial, publicity, sales, design, marketing and legal departments. Employees at HarperCollins have been unionized for more than 80 years, the union said, calling it “one of the earliest unions of ‘white collar’ workers in the country.” The union is an outlier in the industry; most big corporate publishers do not have unionized workers.
Other major publishing companies have similar starting salaries to those at HarperCollins — in 2020, Macmillan announced it was raising entry level pay to $42,000, while Hachette raised starting pay to $45,000 in expensive locations.
In addition to higher pay, HarperCollins workers are asking for better family leave benefits, a greater commitment to increasing diversity and more union protection.
“HarperCollins has been reporting record-breaking profits,” said Olga Brudastova, the president of Local 2110 of the UAW. “Compensation is not keeping up with the rate of inflation and doesn’t reflect the contributions our members make to the company.”