Hundreds of employees at the New York Times on June 28 took a collective coffee break and walked off the job to protest a plan by management to restructure the newspaper’s editing process and eliminate jobs.
The restructuring plan, which will result in the loss of more than 50 out of 100 jobs in the editing department, was announced after The Times management spent 18 months trying figure out how to reconfigure the editing process.
During that time, employees whose jobs were at risk were demeaned by management who compared their important work to “dogs urinating on fire hydrants” and dismissed it as “low-value editing.”
The walkout was at once a demand that management respect the work done by copy editors and others involved in the editing process and a plea to save their jobs.
In a letter addressed to The Times top newsroom management, editing staff who are members of the News Guild CWA Local 31003, said that after 18 months of mistreatment by management, “we are finding it difficult to feel respected.”
During that time, copy editors and other editing staff have been tested, inspected, and, in some cases, rejected, as management tried to figure out how to make its editing staff do more with less.
They also endured restructuring experiments that didn’t work.
The final blow came when editing staff were informed that they would need to reapply and interview for the jobs that would remain after the restructuring plan goes into effect.
The letter from News Guild members includes a simple request to management: “We only ask that you not treat us like a diseased population that must be rounded up, inspected, and expelled.”
Copy editors and other editing staff ensure the quality and accuracy of the stories reported in The Times by checking facts and sources, clarifying confusing wording, correcting misleading or inaccurate information, and correcting grammatical and spelling errors.
The walkout began during the afternoon when the editing department is the busiest.
Editing staff and other employees at The Times gathered together at their usual break time, picked up signs prepared by the union, then walked out the building together.
As they descended the stairs, employees on other floors joined in the walkout, and they marched out the door together.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” tweeted one New York Times employee. “Each floor of the NYT newsroom is full of folks walking out in solidarity with the coming layoffs.”
Outside, The Times employees stood together in solidarity holding up signs that stressed the importance of the work done by the editing staff.
The job action lasted more than 30 minutes before the employees returned to work, and it received the backing of the New York City Labor Council.
“At a time when journalism is under attack, the New York Times should lead by example and protect these good jobs for its hardworking employees,” said Vincent Alvarez, president of the labor council. “The Times is known for balanced, responsible journalism, and we stand with the News Guild in urging the Times to maintain the quality and integrity of its newsroom by maintaining these dedicated careers.”
The Times management has said that it wants to eliminate editing jobs in order to free up more money to hire more reporters, but many Times reporters joined the walkout and sent their own letter to top management criticizing it for its treatment of the editing staff.
The reporters’ letter calls on management to reconsider its decision to restructure the editing process by eliminating copy and photo editing jobs.
The reporters described the copy editors as “their safety net” who “save reporters and The Times every day from countless errors large and small.”
The letter also criticizes management for the lack of respect that it has shown its editing staff.
“Your plan adds insult to injury by requiring many longtime, highly skilled employees to apply and interview for a greatly diminished number of jobs, in sessions that were instantly dubbed ‘death panels’ in the newsroom,” says the reporters’ letter. “Requiring them to dance for their supper sends a clear message to them, and to us, that the respect we have shown The Times will not be reciprocated.”