Why Readers Must Support the HarperCollins Union
In 2022, we saw labor unions across the U.S. go on strike to demand living wages and equitable treatment, including in the publishing industry. Since November, the HarperCollins Union has been on strike. Why is it critical that us readers support their strike and how can we do so?
On November 10, 2022, the HarperCollins Union, the only union of the Big Five publishers (Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Hachette), went on strike for the second time this year. Why? The Union has been working to secure three core changes:
An increase in minimum salary to $50,000/year
Stronger DEI commitments
As of this newsletter, HarperCollins has yet to reach out to the Union about fair negotiations. Instead, they’ve pushed out memos sharing false information, hired temps (or “scabs”) to fill roles, and have announced damaging business changes. In this issue, we’re going to dive further into the importance of this strike and the Union’s demands, as well as the problematic role HarperCollins’ leadership is playing. We’ll also share ways for us all to take action in support of the Union and other ways to combat inequitable corporations within publishing.
A Deeper Look
Why are the Union’s demands important?
Throughout their strike, the Union has been sharing statistics that demonstrate the necessity of their demands. According to MIT’s living wage calculator, an individual living in New York City needs to make at least $52,000/year before taxes to live alone (no dependents, roommates, spouses, etc.). According to CNBC, the average apartment rent in New York City is $60,000/year.
At HarperCollins, starting salaries for entry-level employees are $45,000/year. This number might seem just shy of the $52,000 calculated by MIT, but $7,000/year makes a significant difference when it comes to paying off student loans, visiting family out of state, affording mental health care, and more. And it’s an especially huge difference when some companies cap their promotional raises by a percentage. If an employee makes $45,000/year and goes on to receive three promotions at a 10% raise over 6 years, they will still be making less than $60,000/year in (likely) a managerial position. (This doesn’t account for any potential merit raises/inflation adjustments—neither of which the publishing industry has historically taken seriously.)
Recently, HarperCollins announced a return to in-person work, adding further pressure to those who might consider working for the company from a less expensive city. Such financial constraints have resulted in an industry built on generational wealth and/or second and third jobs. It’s no secret that publishing is overwhelmingly white, especially at management and executive levels. To truly create change, investing in employee growth and ensuring all employees make a livable wage are critical—and that includes everyone from assistants to custodians to warehouse workers.
Releasing strong and transformative commitments to DEI and ensuring union recognition and security are also a must. For more on what those commitments might look like in publishing, we encourage you to read our October newsletter issue. And what does union security look like? HarperCollins would be unable to undercut the Union’s value and demands—which is exactly what the publisher did when they spread misinformation about agency shop (a form of union security that doesn’t require everyone at a company to join the union, but requires all employees to pay a small fee to covers union costs).
How has HarperCollins responded?
As noted earlier in this newsletter, the company has yet to meet the Union at the bargaining table. While they did respond to the strike by pushing out an all-company memo that included misinformation and attempted to downplay the strike’s impact on the business, both unionized and non-unionized employees have cast doubt on and dismantled the memo’s claims.
In fact, individuals have taken to social media to share just how much the company is struggling with the striking of 250+ employees:
Colleagues have informed Union members that the company is seeking temps to fill the roles of those on strike, money that could otherwise be put toward increasing their actual employees’ salaries.
The company also recently announced that they’re phasing out physical advance reader copies—a move that harms authors and reviewers, especially BIPOC+, LGBTQIA2S+, and disabled authors whose stories often receive smaller advances and, therefore, smaller marketing budgets. Though it’s unclear whether this action is a direct response to the strike, we can imagine that the move will offset some of the resulting temp costs, production delays, and more. Learn more about the role of advance reader copies here.
While HarperCollins’ social channels were active daily before the strike, they’ve been much quieter since November. This means that authors’ stories aren’t being promoted and will likely see a decline in sales.
Many agents and authors are withholding new submissions from the company in support of the strike, potentially allowing other publishers to acquire these manuscripts instead.
Why should readers of any type support this strike?
Rallying for industry change is on every reader, reviewer, bookseller, agent, author, writer, publishing employee, etc. Creating change takes every one of us—not just because we all have unique roles to play, but also because equitable change benefits us all. And once one publishing house sets standards, particularly around pay and DEI commitments, other publishers are more likely to follow suit in order to remain competitive.
As The Washington Post wrote, this strike can impact what we read for years to come. An increase in wages, DEI commitments, and union security will all help diversify the industry. More diversity in publishing employees will increase representation in the authors and stories being published. Right now, getting published is both inaccessible and biased. Yes, editors reject proposals based on their knowledge of what makes for a “good read.” But sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, ableism, fatphobia, and racism shape decisions too—in everything from acquisitions to marketing and publicity. If individuals from a range of backgrounds and identities are making these decisions, we’ll see that reflected in the stories published.
Supporting the Union’s demands will also help prevent Penguin Random House from increasing its monopoly on the industry—an increase in power that would likely lead to even less diversity in the books being published. If creators aren’t posting about HarperCollins titles, they’re filling those gaps with other books—and we can assume that some of those are coming from PRH…The same goes for those aforementioned manuscripts that aren’t being submitted to HarperCollins. But if we push HarperCollins to come to a fair contract with the Union, not only will we be furthering equitable standards, but also preventing further monopolization. This fact demonstrates the power we as readers have.
Similarly, if equitable standards are set in publishing that enable a diverse range of authors and stories to be published, we can also expect less stories to be brought to Amazon’s self-publishing services, an avenue many authors take because of traditional publishing’s gatekeeping. This will only further help indie presses, indie bookstores, and anyone else competing with the publishing giant.
Let us know the last book that took up all your attention in the comments!
So how can we support the Union?
Buy your books through their Bookshop page or indie stores that are donating proceeds
Sign the HarperCollins Union’s petition to help show demand and share it with your peers, whether they’re readers or not
Donate to their strike fund by sending checks to:
ATTN Lynne Weir
Region 9A UAW
111 Founders Plaza, 17 Floor
East Hartford, CT 06108
[Add memo: "HarperCollins"]
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to demand the company’s attention
Send physical donations, such as food, hand warmers, etc. to the strike
Check out their social media pages for current needs
Don’t take on new or renew contracts as a freelancer or reviewer
If you’re an agent or author, withhold submissions
If you’re a reviewer (including Bookstagrammers, Booktokers, etc.), do not promote HarperCollins titles on social media
Here is a great example of how you might include books in your post, while still calling out the Union’s work!
Not sure if your book is from HarperCollins? Just open to the front matter and see if their name and/or address is listed!
Please note: This does not mean we should boycott authors—continue to support their work by shopping for their stories at indie bookstores.
The end of the year always brings with it a symbolic period of reflection. Whether we like it or not, our TBR piles will still be here in 2023. The causes we’re advocating for will still need our help, including the HarperCollins Union. Going into the new year, there are plenty of stories and issues that have our attention. Where might we get started? Whether frontlist or backlist, check out these recommended reads. And if you’re looking to get involved with a new organization, here’s a list of those we love to support.
As always, thanks for taking the time to read this month’s newsletter. We will be back in the new year with informative content, nonsensical memes, and the return of free downloads! If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, don’t hesitate to get in touch via email, the comments below, or on Instagram DM.
Olivia and Fiona