By Hannah Collins
On 20 July 2022, HarperCollins staff in the US staged a one-day strike to try and resolve ongoing disputes regarding their employee contracts. The UAW, which stands for United Auto Workers, represents more than 250 HarperCollins employees from all areas of the publishing industry, including design, editorial, legal, marketing, publicity and sales departments. Earlier this month, 99.5% of the HarperCollins Union voted to authorise a strike that could question and improve certain contractual details upheld by the company. Employees were asking for improved pay, better family leave benefits, a greater commitment to diversifying staff and stronger union protection.
According to the UAW union, current contract negotiations with management at HarperCollins US began in December 2021, when a one-year pandemic extension of contracts was about to expire. Until a deal can be reached between employees and management, staff will continue to work without a contract. The union also stated that its HarperCollins members, largely composed of women, earn on average $55,000 (£46,000) annually, with a starting salary of $45,000 (£37,600). Considering that the company's US offices are situated in large cities such as Boston and New York, this wage has been declared as too low to live on in these areas. Laura Harshberger, a Senior Production Editor in children’s books and the union chairperson, said the following in a statement on the matter: “Most of us earn low salaries that are unlivable in major cities like New York and Boston,” and this indeed explains why improving wages is a key driving force behind this strike. Many employees also stated that they felt pressured to work extra hours without additional pay or compensation.
These contractual negotiations at HarperCollins US are the first to take place since the company acquired and bought the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) trade division and the UAW union has stated that it is disputing HarperCollins’ refusal to include former HMH employees based in Boston in the bargaining unit, or to recognize the seniority of former HMH staff based in New York who now work for HarperCollins.
As well as discussing the unlivable wage situation, Laura Harshberger also stated that the proposals made by employees to HarperCollins’ management are to make the company “a more diverse, inclusive and equitable workplace.” She went on to discuss that HarperCollins “says publicly [that] it supports diversifying the industry, but management is refusing to meaningfully address the low pay rates or codify policy changes in our union contract. Our members are tired of empty gestures. They want meaningful change.” It will be interesting to see, after this strike has taken place, what changes are made by the company and if it has any comments on the matter.