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Wirecutter Union to Return to Work After Black Friday Strike

While the 65-member editorial team spent the holiday with family instead of combing the Internet for deals, the site continued to publish without staff bylines

There was an upside for some of the 65 members of the Wirecutter Union who went out on a strike timed for the Black Friday shopping week, said unit chair Nick Guy. “Some of our team members who have not been able to sit down to have Thanksgiving dinner with their family in five years had the opportunity,” he said. “Obviously, we would have preferred to be working and not be on strike, but because we were, we looked for the silver lining there.” When the final decision to strike was made on Wednesday evening, Guy was out seeing the musical Come From Away. “Before the strike was definite, we invited my in-laws into town for Thanksgiving,” he said. “We were striking and hosting and cooking, so a little bit more than I expected to be going on at once, but it ended up being a very nice week.”

The union has been bargaining with management at The New York Times Company, which owns the product recommendations site, since management voluntarily recognized them in 2019. They have not been able to settle on a mutually acceptable collective bargaining agreement — the key demand by the union is over pay increases — and management declined to negotiate during the site’s busiest period of the year. So the union said it would go out on strike Black Friday through Cyber Monday if management did not come to the bargaining table by Thanksgiving. “We would have been willing to come to the table at any time before Thursday,” Guy said. “Even over the weekend, if they had said, ‘Okay, you struck for Thursday and Friday, but we want to talk Saturday and have you back on Monday.’ We would have been happy to do that. But I think we had a pretty good idea from the messages they were sending us that the strike was going to happen.”

The union hasn’t heard anything new from management since the start of the strike. There is a bargaining session scheduled for next Monday, December 6. The union plans to return to work on Tuesday. On Monday, reached by Off the Record, spokesperson Danielle Rhoades Ha said The Times did not have any new statements to share. Prior to the strike’s start on midnight Thursday, according to New York Magazine, David Perpich, the executive who oversees the Wirecutter, posted to the internal Slack that management was “disappointed” by the labor action and added, “With the Wirecutter Union, we are very close to reaching an agreement and have remained willing to engage in the necessary give and take of negotiations to try to reach overall agreement.”

Wirecutter continued to publish throughout the strike, posting dozens of updates related to sales. Aside from the conspicuous absence of bylines — most were credited to “Wirecutter Staff” — a web shopper who visited the site might have been unaware of the strike. The Wirecutter social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram remained active through the weekend, though most of their posts attracted comments from supporters urging people to heed the union’s call for a reader boycott of the site during the strike. Sarah Kobos, interim vice chair of the union, told The Daily Beast last week, “We’re appalled that the Times is relying on our non-union colleagues at the Times to work overtime during a holiday weekend.” Still, Guy sidestepped questions about who was publishing posts during the strike. “I’d rather not get into that one,” he told us. A Times spokesperson rejected the idea that the company had brought in scabs, telling The Daily Beast, “all of the casual employees were scheduled to work during this period before the strike was announced.”

It’s unknown if Wirecutter’s revenue took a hit or not during the strike, but Guy pointed to the public support as helping the union’s cause. “Because so much of this has happened on Twitter, it’s been very public support. So I think the message has probably gotten out,” he said. “I’m sure that management is aware of the success we’ve had through this campaign. I think when we get back to the table, we’ll have to determine exactly how we communicate that, but I don’t think they’ve missed it.”

One of the immediate results of the Twitter support was a successful fundraising effort to make up for members’ lost wages during the work stoppage. The union’s GoFundMe has raised more than $40,000, well beyond its original goal of $15,000. “For some of our people, who plan throughout the year for this overtime, this money that they would normally make is how they buy their holiday presents or how they get home to visit family or how they pay their bills,” he said. “So we wanted to make sure that taking this brave united action of striking doesn’t end up leaving a hole in their pocket.” Most years, Wirecutter staff who work on the deals team put in 30 to 50 hours of overtime during the Black Friday weekend, he said. “We just wanted to make sure that we can make people whole. I think we’re going to be able to do that. So the folks who didn’t work should, more or less, come out about even as if they were working this week.”

The striking union also drew support from some prominent politicians. “I am proud to stand in solidarity with the workers of @wirecutterunion,” Sen. Bernie Sanders tweeted on Friday. “To my mind it is not right that Wirecutter workers are paid a median salary some $43,000 less than others in the newsroom. Management must negotiate in good faith to see that workers are compensated fairly.” On Thursday, Ohio congressman Tim Ryan retweeted a link to Wirecutter that The New York Times had posted on its main account, with an image of an inflatable rat and the message, “we ain’t crossing that picket line.” But the greatest success of the strike, in Guy’s eyes, has been the outpouring of support from regular Wirecutter readers. “It’s great to get Bernie Sanders tweeting on your behalf,” he said, “but for me, it’s even more important to see someone I haven’t had a chance to meet but who relies on Wirecutter, for whom Wirecutter makes their life better in some way, saying they’re thankful for that and appreciative and supportive.”

Guy said he thinks the strike has improved his union’s bargaining position. “Not that I don’t think they haven’t taken this seriously in the past, but I do hope they see how sincere and dedicated we are to making this happen,” he said. “We’re not asking for a wild amount here. We’re asking for an amount that still leaves us way below what they make in the newsroom, but it makes us more competitive with our peers across the industry. Unfortunately, at this point, we’re losing people to other sites and other publications because they can pay more. So we’re hoping that we can come to an agreement pretty quickly and, hopefully, go into the new year with a contract ready to go.”

He added, “I think the most positive strike is the one you don’t have to go through with, but we were fully prepared all along. We made sure our plans were fully executed so that if it did get to this point, we wouldn’t be caught surprised, we’d be ready to go. And that’s what we did.”