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HarperCollins workers are on strike to demand better pay

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

HarperCollins Publishers is one of the biggest book publishers in the country. They put out bestselling novels like Madeline Miller's "The Song Of Achilles," popular self-help books like a book we'll call "The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F-word" by Mark Manson, and important books for young adults like Angie Thomas's "The Hate U Give." But some of the workers at the company have long been frustrated with the low wages and lack of diversity on staff. So now they're on strike. NPR's Andrew Limbong has more.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: On Thursday, the HarperCollins union Instagram page posted a short video of workers and supporters marching in front of the publisher's New York City offices.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED STRIKERS: Treat your workers like you should.

LIMBONG: It's been a long negotiation process for the approximately 250 union members. This includes people working in publicity, design, marketing and more - all the parts of putting out a book that you usually don't see. Negotiations started in December, and they've been working without a contract since April.

STEPHANIE GUERDAN: It should open us up actually to the ability to go on strike because we have a no-strike, no-lockout clause in our contract.

LIMBONG: That's Stephanie Guerdan, an associate editor at HarperCollins Children's Books and a shop steward for the union, taking a quick break from the picket line to give me a call. Guerdan says the main thing they're demanding is better wages. The minimum salary is $45,000.

GUERDAN: I was hired in six years ago at $33,000. None of that is an amount you can live on in New York City, and the company is pretty adamant that people should be close enough to commute in at least, like, one day a week.

LIMBONG: So the union is demanding pay starts at 50,000 a year. The publishing industry is known for not paying great salaries, and low pay makes it hard to attract employees who don't have a financial cushion beneath them. According to a recent Publishers Weekly survey, the median salary for men is 80,000, while for women it's a little over $62,000. That same year, HarperCollins' parent company, News Corp, boasted in its Q4 earnings report that HarperCollins was bringing in record profits, though the book boom of the early pandemic has evened out recently.

GUERDAN: We've been bending over backwards to try to find compromises in terms of negotiations that would allow us to settle without going on strike. But they're not interested in making any economic moves, and that's really where the pain point is for us.

LIMBONG: HarperCollins didn't offer anyone up for an interview but did send a statement that said the company has agreed to a number of proposals, but, quote, "We are disappointed an agreement has not been reached and will continue to negotiate in good faith." Guerdan says they'll stay on strike for as long as it takes.

Andrew Limbong, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.