NEW YORK – HarperCollins Publishers and the union representing some 250 striking employees have agreed to enter into federal mediation, the first sign of a possible settlement since the work stoppage began in early November.
“We are excited to have this opportunity to continue bargaining with HarperCollins and hope they finally are ready to put a fair offer on the table,” Olga Brudastova, president of Local 2110 UAW, said in a statement Thursday. “We have been on strike for over two months at this point. It is time for us to resolve any outstanding differences and attempt to reset our relationship.”
HarperCollins, owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, issued a statement saying it hoped that meeting with an outside mediator would provide “a path forward.” The publisher had not met with union negotiators in months.
“We entered negotiations eager to find common ground, and we have remained committed to achieving a fair and reasonable contract throughout this process,” the company's statement reads in part. “We are hopeful that a mutually agreed upon mediator can help find the solutions that have eluded us so far. HarperCollins has had a union for 80 years, with a long history of successful and fair contract negotiations. The company has the exact same goal now, and is actively working to achieve it.”
As defined by the government, federal mediation is a “voluntary process” through which a “neutral” third party tries to help labor and management reach an agreement.
HarperCollins and the UAW have disagreed on union protections, workplace diversity and wages, with the UAW asking the publisher to raise the starting salary from $45,000 to $50,000 — a range comparable to what other large New York publishers pay.
HarperCollins union members — who include editorial assistants, marketers and other mid- and entry-level staffers — had been working without a contract since last spring. They staged a one-day strike over the summer and walked off indefinitely on Nov. 10. Last week, more than 100 workers held a rally in front of News Corp headquarters in midtown Manhattan.
The impasse has highlighted an ongoing debate over working conditions in book publishing, which has long offered low pay to younger employees, making it hard for many to live in the New York City area. Neil Gaiman, Lauren Groff and Angie Thomas are among the many writers who have expressed support for the HarperCollins staffers, and more than 150 agents had said they would not send book proposals to the publisher until a settlement was reached.
HarperCollins is the only company among the so-called “Big Five” New York publishers to have a union, which last went on strike in 1974, for 2 1/2 weeks.