New York Times tech workers strike over a return-to-the-office mandate issued without negotiations: 'The company continues to act like we don’t exist'

New York Times technology workers went on a half-day strike Monday afternoon, accusing the media company of trying to unilaterally force them back to the office without negotiating in good faith.

The employees, who include software engineers and product managers, voted 404-to-88 last year to unionize with the NewsGuild, extending a wider wave of organizing in US technology and media businesses. 

The work stoppage began at 1 p.m., with the union holding demonstrations on Zoom and in-person outside the Times’ Manhattan headquarters, which the tech guild also live-streamed on Instagram. 

More than 150 union members and supporters stood outside the New York Times building Monday afternoon, with members taking turns speaking about their contract demands, protesting mandatory return-to-office policies and criticizing what they saw as stalling from management. Some demonstrators wore Halloween costumes. The vast majority of the nearly 700 employees in the tech guild have agreed to participate in the strike, the union said.

Workers have been in contract talks with Times management for 15 months, and said the company has been dragging its feet in negotiations while trying to curb their ability to work from home. US National Labor Relations Board prosecutors have concluded that the company violated federal law by unilaterally implementing a return-to-office plan and failing to negotiate with the union over it, according to Kayla Blado, a spokesperson for the board. Absent a settlement, a regional director of the agency will issue a complaint against the Times, Blado said in an email.

Danielle Rhoades Ha, a New York Times spokesperson, denied wrongdoing and said the company had been following government guidance on Covid-19 protocol, adding that no NLRB members or judges have ruled against the company’s approach. She said Times management has been meeting regularly for contract talks with the guild, and has offered to meet more frequently in smaller groups, rather than the guild issuing invitations to the entire membership to attend. 

“We believe that allowing people the flexibility to work together in the office at times and remotely at other times benefits everyone by ensuring that we maintain the strong, collaborative environment that has come to define our culture and drive our success,” Rhoades Ha said in an email. 

The guild says letting members be present in bargaining is important for transparency. “Why would this company make such a fuss about their own employees watching negotiations silently on Zoom unless the company has something to hide?” said Kathy Zhang, the tech guild’s chair.

By imposing policies unilaterally and threatening workers with punishment if they don’t comply, Times management is behaving as though the employees never unionized, said Zhang, who works on the Times’ audience team.

“The company continues to act like we don’t exist,” Zhang said. “We’re hoping that when we show how much solidarity we have and how many members are feeling very strongly against management’s actions, that they will see that we are serious.” 

Tech staff at the Times have drawn inspiration from other striking workers this year, she said, including United Auto Workers members and Hollywood writers and actors.

Monday’s strike is the Times tech workers’ first since 2021, when they walked out in protest of the company’s response to their organizing campaign, according to the NewsGuild, an affiliate of the Communications Workers of America. Times journalists, who’ve been represented by the guild for decades, held a one-day work stoppage last December during their own contentious contract talks. Those employees reached a deal in May that includes protections for hybrid work and a ban on nondisclosure agreements for abuse or harassment cases, according to the guild.

Last year, the Times settled a case in which NLRB prosecutors accused the company of illegally interfering with its tech workers’ organizing rights by telling employees it designated as “intern managers” that they weren’t allowed to show their support for unionizing.

The Communications Workers of America has been fighting legal battles over hybrid work at employers including Alphabet Inc. and Grindr Inc., accusing management of using return-to-office mandates as tools to try to defeat union organizing campaigns. The companies have denied wrongdoing in those cases, which are still being investigated by the NLRB. Complaints issued by NLRB prosecutors are considered by agency judges, whose rulings can be appealed to labor board members in Washington, and from there to federal court. 

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