Two of The New York Times’s top White House reporters are opting out of a labor action Thursday as tensions continue to grow over contract negotiations at the news organization.
Chief White House reporter Peter Baker and Pulitzer Prize-winning White House correspondent Michael Shear told colleagues before the walkout that they would not be participating in the one day work stoppage, three people told Semafor.
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The rift in the powerful Washington bureau reflects a lingering generational and ideological divide between many in the newsroom and a smaller group of older unionized staff in the D.C bureau.
Some staff in the D.C bureau believe the union should focus more on compensation and other concrete worker protections, and less on broader cultural and social issues that have also been part of the union’s bargaining proposals. Union leaders have tried to keep the focus largely on economic issues which unite a larger part of the union.
Shear was among dozens of staff at the paper who previously signed a letter protesting an increase in union dues for individuals making more than $140,000 per year.
But the contract fight has largely united the Times’s feuding tribes, as members of the union who have at times differed over the Times’s coverage of race, sex, and other cultural issues share frustrations over the economic ones. Some sources have also cautioned against reading too much into the divide, emphasizing that the individuals who did not participate do not reflect the general sentiments of D.C. unionized staff. Those sources noted that the vast majority of unionized D.C. staff participated in the walkout.
The dispute between the paper and the Times union that led to Thursday’s strike largely centers around economic proposals including wages and health and retirement benefits. Unionized staff are seeking greater salary increases, which they hope will offset what they see as cuts in employee healthcare benefits.
But there’s also been some frustration by both sides around negotiation tactics: The union has said that the paper is bargaining in bad faith, and has dragged out negotiations while the paper has been frustrated by the Guild’s insistence that bargaining be conducted virtually, and often with hundreds of staff in attendance. The two sides held a private bargaining session this week, but were unable to reach an agreement.
The New York NewsGuild, the labor union that represents that Times, says 80% of union members (around 1160 staffers) signed pledges to participate in the strike, including journalists, advertising staff, and security guards. The Guild declined to comment on the specifics of participants in the walkout, and Shear and Baker didn’t respond to inquiries.
Thursday’s walkout represents the first major labor action in decades at the paper. Times employees told me that many of the paper’s editors pre-wrote stories on Wednesday, while others scrambled all week to learn some elements of web and print production. Other articles, including the Times’s own piece about the walkout, were published without an official byline. After this story was initially published, some Times reporters pointed out Shear and Baker bylined the paper’s coverage of WNBA star Brittney Griner’s release from Russia.
Room for Disagreement
Politico’s Jack Shafer writes that the decline of newspapers and the rise of new technology has crippled once-powerful unions: “While these walkouts weren’t a complete waste of time — they did, after all, call the public’s attention to their discontent and build solidarity among union membership — management didn’t suffer even a pin prick. If the NewsGuild goes through with its planned Thursday walkout, Times management will shrug off the demo, because it can. Newspaper unions can annoy their bosses, they can reap publicity for their cause, but they can’t hurt management like they could in the old days.”
- If the walkout does not succeed in bringing the two sides closer to a deal, it could precede a vote by union members to authorize a strike.
- The Times union is asking readers not to read the paper or to play online games, meaning many readers could break their longrunning Wordle and crossword streaks.