HarperCollins Publishing Company industrial workers took to the streets outside of the publishing office on Broadway in New York City on Nov. 10, 2022, to strike against their last union contract expiring in April 2021 and for a new contract to be negotiated. With this strike, workers hope to gain union rights and protections, fair wages, and a company commitment to expand diversity. They continue to strike and at the time of writing, Jan. 4 marked day 40 of striking.
In 1974, the company saw a similar strike that only lasted 17 days until a revised contract was created. Popular reading list and literary news website Book Riot reported that as of Dec. 12, 2022, more than 500 authors have signed a letter supporting the strike, yet no resolution has been reached with the publisher.
According to the Books and Publishing International News section, it was recorded that HarperCollins had a 42% profit increase in 2021, yet the average salary for their employees is $55,000 per year with a minimum salary of $45,000. For many living in New York, where the headquarters are located, this salary is not enough to cover the basic costs of living.
Ayn Frazee, librarian at Franklin High School, said, “there’s been this attitude of ‘well, you’re lucky to be here’ and you should be happy with what you get, even if it’s low pay, long hours, and not getting compensated for all this extra work.”
HarperCollins currently holds the title as the second largest book publisher in the United States behind Penguin Random House, mostly publishing novels. Each year they publish approximately 10,000 new books in 16 different languages. Some of the most common titles on the Franklin shelves published by HarperCollins are “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas, “Shatter Me” by Tahereh Mafi, and “They Both Die At the End” by Adam Silvera. Frazee mentioned that due to the strike, books are being published at a slower rate and the Franklin library has already felt that effect.
With the publishing giant’s employees on strike, Frazee believes that “publishing workers [from other companies] are going to be either inspired to ask for what they need on their own or if it ends up that HarperCollins doesn’t’ budge […] it might set the tone for the rest of the publishing industry.”
While the employees have been on strike, she added that she has definitely thought twice about purchasing books for the library by the publisher. “Supporting workers rights is really important, even if you don’t feel like it’s impacting you individually, I think it does impact our culture as a whole,” explained Frazee. “Everybody deserves to have a living wage and deserves to be compensated for their time and work.”
Publishing employees of all companies have a history of being underpaid and not receiving the appropriate benefits. It is worth noting that employees in the industry are predominantly women and the gender pay gap is a considerable factor in generalized low wages. Editing roles have been reported to specifically not compensate for working extra hours as well, according to The Guardian.
As the second largest publisher in the country, the result of this strike will likely be followed by other publishers and workers looking to HarperCollins to lead by example in their rights and wages. Frazee concludes that “it’s really going to set the tone for other kinds of union action [in the entire industry]. ”