Occupy HarperCollins Seeking Support from HarperCollins Authors

A tipster has forwarded us an e-mail that HarperCollins’s union, Local 2110 of the UAW, has been sending to writers who have published books with the company, asking the writers to sign an open letter of support. As we reported earlier, a protest at HarperCollins has been announced for next Wednesday. The e-mail, which we publish below the jump, requests support from authors in ongoing contract negotiations. Our tipster called the experience “slightly awkward.”

The contract dispute at the company predates Occupy Wall Street, but appears to be benefiting from its energy. “Essentially we have been in negotiations with them for over a year,” Eden Schulz, recording secretary at the union, told The Observer. She added that HarperCollins has been unwilling to cooperate with the union despite healthy profits. “They’re really lowballing us on wages, asking for increases in healthcare costs and trying to gut our seniority protection for our employees.”

She said that Local 2110 represents “everyone from editorial assistants to designers” at the publishing house. It also represents workers at the nearby Museum of Modern Art, which has also seen protests recently. Ms. Schulz said she hopes workers from MoMA will join HarperCollins picketers next week.

A request for comment from HarperCollins was not immediately returned. Update: Erin Crum, a spokesperson for HarperCollins, e-mailed us the following comment:

HarperCollins is currently negotiating its labor contract with the United Auto Workers (UAW), Local 2110.  We are offering a very fair and competitive package, one that will continue to make HarperCollins a great place to work for all our employees. We are committed to bargaining in good faith, and trying to reach a fair agreement with the union. Because HarperCollins believes it should only bargain with the union at the negotiating table, and not in the press, we are not able to provide additional details at this time.

Here is the full text of the e-mail the union has been sending to HarperCollins authors.

Dear HarperCollins Author:

As you are no doubt aware, the publishing process involves a great
number of people with unique areas of specialization, each of whom
plays a vital role in ensuring that your book is given the best
possible treatment and chance for success. At HarperCollins, many of
those people are covered under a collective bargaining agreement and
represented as part of union Local 2110, UAW. Employees of
HarperCollins have been represented by this union since the 1940s, and
its members may be found in every department, from editorial,
marketing, and design to production and publicity. Every book
published by HarperCollins benefits immensely from our talent and
professionalism.

However, our union is currently facing the greatest threat in its history.

HarperCollins and its parent company, News Corporation, are insisting
that we accept a devastating array of concessions. Under management’s
proposed revisions to the contract:

·         Yearly guaranteed raises would be eliminated, leaving all
wage increases wholly at management’s discretion. Furthermore, the
obligation that HarperCollins spend a certain percentage of the
payroll on raises would be eliminated.   With salaries starting at
just $30,000 and a median salary of just $41,000, we depend on
receiving regular increases just to survive from paycheck to paycheck.

·         HarperCollins increased the cost of employee contributions
to our health care premiums by half this year. This hurts all
HarperCollins employees, but because of the regressive formula the
Company uses to determine each employee’s monthly contribution,
employees on the lower end of the salary scale pay a far greater
proportion of our income for health benefits then the best-compensated
HarperCollins employees in management.

·         All seniority protections would be drastically reduced, as
well as all obligations to notify employees of layoffs, leaving
HarperCollins with wide leeway to eliminate any employee at any time,
with no notice, for any reason—even if that person had spent their
entire working life with the company.

·         Union members would be required to accept a whole host of
changes to their working conditions, including reduced maternity
leave, lower raises upon promotions, and restrictions on the use of
vacation time.

HarperCollins, by its own admission, continues to make a substantial
profit. Sadly, publishing professionals do not make much money, but
HarperCollins’s employees receive some of the lowest salaries in the
entire industry. Taken as a whole, the above contract proposals
represent an attack on working people by one of the world’s most
profitable media companies.  We love the work that we do for the
company but ask simply for fair and reasonable conditions.  As an
esteemed author, we urge you to sign our open letter of support. For
more information, or to find out additional ways to show your support,
please contact Eden Schulz at our union office at 212-387-0220 or
edenschulz@2110uaw.org.

Sincerely,

The Unionized Employees of HarperCollins Publishers, Local 2110, UAW

Occupy HarperCollins Seeking Support from HarperCollins Authors