Current salaries for employees are unsustainable in metropolitan cities, where most big publishers house their offices. The average salary at HarperCollins is $55k, with a starting salary of $45k, which is similar to what other Big 5 publishers offer. But with inflation continually rising, those averages have taken a 2.5% knockdown. Coupled with New York rent at an average high of $4k, it doesn’t allow wiggle room to exist outside of working. To live and work in publishing today, career hopefuls must either come from affluence, or have a partner that can support you financially.
Harper Collins is the only publisher to have unionized workers. The union was first established 80 years ago, in 1942, “as one of the earliest unions of ‘white collar workers’ in the country”. In 1974, the then Harper & Row employees formed a strike for similar reasons as they are now. At the time, the union workers went on strike for better benefits after their three year contract expired. Bernice Krawczyk, head of the organization, stated “the sticking point now is the fact that management refuses to let us have both an across the‐board increase system, and a merit increase system, and they would like us to give up the profit‐sharing plan. In 1987, when the company was bought by News Corporation, it demanded for an open shop policy, wherein employees are not required to join the union. This particular negotiation is still in place and is part of what the current union employees are trying to relinquish.
Nearly 50 years have passed since 1974 strike and the one-day HCU strike on July 20th, and employees are still fighting with publishers for the same basic courtesy of survivability: to be able to live and work in the industry that they love. Is this due to a failure to acknowledge that the economy is always in flux, and by that virtue wages must increase to compensate for these changes? Is it a complete lack of awareness that just because the upper echelons of the companies do not struggle, that those lower down do not? Or more simply, is that they only care for the work they are offering up for the bare minimum, as the companies make record profits?
Mass resignations have surged across publishing in 2022, largely fueled by low pay paired with high living cost, the widely unsaid rule of putting in extra hours without compensation, a lack of upward mobility, and salary compression across the industry. Diversity inclusivity has also become a factor, with publishers failing and refusing to interview a person of color for an open position. Yet despite these struggles, publishing hopefuls are still eager to get their foot in the door. One person may no longer be willing to suffer mistreatment, but there is a line of people waiting and willing to accept it. Until they quit as well, this process will continue to create a never ending cycle, enabling management to uphold unlivable wages, so long as the next applicant continues to accept them.
Two years ago in the U.K. similar issues in low salary and high cost of living were discussed among women in the industry. Many were quoted saying they were barely able to afford rent, groceries, or travel expenses to work. As mentioned by The Bookseller, publishing is considered to be a passion career, wherein companies do not feel as if they need to compete with similar positions in other industries.
While the HarperCollins union returned to the table for negotiations with the publisher in August 2022, the publisher refused to accept the union’s terms, going on to say that what they offer is “market standard”. With costs of living higher than ever before however, this standard is no longer sustainable, made worse by the long hours which prohibit employees from taking on additional work elsewhere to make ends meet. Recent statements from the DOJ vs. Penguin Random House case further illuminates how badly out of touch publishing CEOs are, with Jonathan Karp’s constant deflections and spotty testimony. It must be a very satisfying seat of power to hold, if an $100k author advance–over twice the base level pay of entry level publishing careers–seems small.
Across the nation, workers are up in arms fighting for better wages and benefits. People do not and should not have to live their lives scraping by (x, x, x, x). The latest insecure outcry of “quiet quitting” which seeks to shame people for simply doing their basic job is a cheap tactic from companies and employers, who are in truth bemoaning that people are refusing to work for free. “Passion doesn’t pay”, the employees chanted, outside in blistering heat for hours, and HarperCollins should learn that this isn’t an angle to take advantage of, but rather a chance to build better and more inclusive workplaces.
For failure to put a fair offer on the bargaining table, the HCU has filed an Unfair Labor Practice against HarperCollins. In choosing not to respond to the union’s requests for a better bargaining strategy, the publishing house instead chose to violate the National Labor Rights Act. With the publishing house still refusing to meet the basic needs of their unionized staff, the HCU has voted with an astonishing 97% to proceed with an open-ended strike, should HarperCollins fail to reach a contract agreement. This strike is set to begin Nov. 10th, allowing for all union workers to participate in the US mid-term elections before taking to the picket lines. Our team at Quick Fox Editors stands in full support of this action – we will not be taking on any HC manuscripts until the strike has ended. Those seeking to assist the HCU can do so by promoting their official social media posts, as well as donating to their strike fund.