Authors note: For those reading who might not be aware of what it is currently going on with the strike, please read HarperCollins Union’s press release and other info (including how to donate to the strike fund) at their LinkTree here. For purposes of this post, it should be understood that to “Stand in Solidarity with HarperCollins Union” as an agented author means that you have agreed to withhold submitting your book to any HarperCollins imprint until such a time as the bargaining unit employees have a new contract. For me, this means that if the union is still on strike by the time ALL HER WISHES is ready to go on submission, my agent and I have agreed we will not submit it to HarperCollins or any imprint of HarperCollins to honor our commitments to the strike (my agent has signed a similar pledge in relation to agenting, so we are 100% united in this commitment).
1/26/2023 Update: I started drafting this blog post a few days ago with the plan to publish it on day 56 (week 8) of the strike, which is today. Today, finally, HarperCollins management has agreed to mediation. THE UNION IS STILL ON STRIKE. HOLDING THE LINE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER.
In my home, #Unionstrong is not just a hashtag on Twitter. It is a lifestyle. My grandfather was a steelworker from western Pennsylvania. My grandmother was a charge nurse in a nurse’s union during a time when many women weren’t “supposed” to be working at all. Much of the rest of my family has union affiliations running through their blood as deep as the coal dust from the mines they find themselves in. My partner is a shop steward for a local Teamsters Union. I have spent many a night sitting with him at our kitchen table, pouring over their contract and proposals while he texts his crew about whatever is going on in negotiations.
Interestingly, as it relates to my union affiliation, I spent over a decade of my career on the other side of the table: the management side. Before you skewer me, let me explain. I was a paralegal and benefits specialist for a law firm that had a unique relationship with labor, because we served as co-counsel to a ton of Taft-Hartley funds (multi-employer benefit funds that must be overseen by an equal number of management and labor trustees). We were not union busters; we were there to cultivate genuine relationships between management and labor.
You know, like how it’s supposed to work.
I have updated this post because today, finally, HarperCollins has agreed to mediate. But that still means that they went 55 days without saying a word. It means that their employees are still on strike for day 56. That’s eight weeks. Eight weeks that these employees have been without pay. Two months. Think about that for a second. Think about what going two months without pay would mean for you and your family.
Now, think about the fact that this is a bargaining unit consisting of 250+ employees across editorial, sales, marketing, publicity, design, and legal whose average salary is $55,000 a year in New York City. You know, the most expensive city to live in in the United States. The city whose median home price is $850,000 and median rent can be anywhere between $1,900 to $4,500 a month. Source and Source and Source. Doing a little rough math for taxes based on that tax bracket and factoring in New York City taxes, assuming standard deduction, you’re talking about a take home pay of about roughly $1,600 biweekly if you don’t have deductions for things like healthcare, 401(k), a health savings account, or a flexible savings account, etc. So, less than that, really. Or an inability to have insurance. Or save for retirement. Cool options.
Now, think about donating to the strike fund HERE.
That’s all based on that $55,000 average salary that HarperCollins Union talked about in their press release. But the wild thing is that isn’t even the point of contention! While there are a few things at issue*, when talking cold hard cash the thing the union is striking for here is to increase the starting salary from $45,000 a year to $50,000 a year. A measly little $5,000 a year. Listen, I know my day job is in software, so I’m obviously a gluttonous snowflake who doesn’t work and feeds on the wokeness of the masses or something, but I’m telling you $5,000 a year for new employees to a company that reported $487 million in revenue and $39 million in earnings in its last quarter (a BAD quarter) is not a lot of money. Source.
*Union security being one which when I tell you how hard I laughed, like omg please union security clauses are standard and a non-issue, in a decade plus of doing this kind of thing I have NEVER seen a union security clause disputed like what is even happening there? Please explain, HarperCollins.
Oh wow, so I went wandering a bit. Sorry, I fell down a capitalism rabbit hole and couldn’t seem to find my way out. Give me a moment to just reset here…
Right so that’s all well and good but probably if you’re here you know all that. Well, you might not have known that specific level of detail on the math because that was maybe a little intense, but you probably understood the basics of HarperCollins is a big company that makes a lot of money, New York City is very expensive, and these people are underpaid because LOLZ who isn’t. Thanks, America.
But back to me, because this is my blog, and I’m here to talk about why I personally stand in solidarity with the HarperCollins Union despite the fact that it is scary as shit as a baby author to be like hahahaha no, who needs you, Harper? And your… million imprints. I… definitely… do not. Heh.
Wow, they just keep going, huh?
Anyway, I would be lying to say it wasn’t terrifying to have those imprints just POOF off your submission list when you’re a baby author. Still, when I had The Call with my agent, high on my list of priorities was that Keir knew I was with faer in the commitment to not cross the picket line. I knew Keir had signed on to the open letter put out by agents late in 2022 declaring they would withhold submissions from Harper in solidarity, and I wanted faer to know this was also my desire even though it was scary.
Because I believe in unions, like I said. They are a deep part of my life. I believe in fair wages, even if I don’t believe $50,000 is even pushing it far enough, but hey, it’s a start. I believe in diversity, and I believe it is more than a trend or a marketing tool, but if we want to make it more than that, we will have to work harder and be better and do the right thing even when it is the hard thing. Lord do I know that. I also understand the complexities behind making a profession passion-based and how it disproportionately excludes marginalized groups. I myself almost had to leave my publishing dream behind because of my disabilities. I got to the point with writing and querying and writing and querying and working a high-paced, full-time job to pay the bills that I was so burned out I was throwing up blood. I had migraines so bad I couldn’t get up for days at a time. I almost had to be hospitalized. I found myself at a crossroads: Keep it up or die. Pay the bills or publishing.
Too many of these employees are facing similar choices and publishing is already their full-time job.
We are watching publishing professionals leave the business in droves. Agents, editors, publicists, marketing folks. They’re burned out. They’re working multiple jobs, eighty hour weeks, and they barely have two pennies to rub together in the most expensive city in the world. This trickles down to authors and querying writers. Less opportunities, less people to advocate for us, longer wait times, heavier lift on what kind of work we have to produce but yet smaller advances. The list goes on.
What hurts one of us, hurts us all. That’s the whole point of a union. Stronger together.
So yeah, looking at that list and knowing those are opportunities potentially missed is scary. But what’s scarier is knowing that if I don’t do something in whatever small way I can might mean that in the end, we all lose. And that’s a future I simply want no part of.
P.s. Have you donated to the Strike Fund yet?