Q&A: Wirecutter on Strike

Wirecutter staffers are on strike. And employees at the product review website have an ask for readers as well:

Don’t go on the Wirecutter website on Black Friday through Cyber Monday. And don’t use Wirecutter’s affiliate links to buy anything.

As New York Magazine’s Choire Sicha puts it: It’s the best strike for most people.

Wirecutter’s staffers, who voted to unionize in 2019, are asking for an increase of about $300,000 spread over 65 people. Now you can help them reach a deal by not crossing the picket line. 

The Objective talked to Tim Heffernan, a senior staff writer at Wirecutter and a member of the unit’s bargaining committee, about the strike and how they got to this point.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Wirecutter is owned by The New York Times. Could you talk a bit about the difference between New York Times benefits and pay and Wirecutter’s benefits and pay?

The Times is a real legacy shop. And so, their wages are necessarily much higher than ours. I believe that the mean newsroom wage is like $119,000 or something like that, and we’re down in the seventies. And that means we have lots of people who make much less than that. 

We did not go into this expecting to raise ourselves up to the Times level. That would just be an absolute non-starter. But we wanted significant one-time wage increases—just increase everybody’s salary to a minimum within four different tiers that we’ve laid out.

The good thing is that we made it clear to management that our main priority was getting our lowest-paid workers a significant one-time wage increase. And we think we’ve got some good movement there and we’re feeling okay about that. Not so much the two higher tiers. 

Could you give a brief synopsis of how you got to today’s strike? How long have you been trying to reach a deal with management? 

I believe it was in July of 2019. We began bargaining in November or December of that year—I think we only had one session before the winter holidays. We have been bargaining regularly, for the last two years, essentially all the way through the pandemic in 2020, and here we are in 2021 and we’re still at the bargaining table. 

We have got tentative agreements on quite a few things, but as typically happens, stuff like wages and benefits wind up being the last thing to be decided and management simply has not made us an offer on guaranteed wages that we find acceptable.

Why are you striking on Black Friday? Who came up with this idea to have a targeted strike should management not budge?

Black Friday—or at this point, Cyber Week in general—and Prime Day are very, very big for Wirecutter. Obviously, people are searching for great deals, especially around that time. With the increased traffic and people making a lot of purchases around those two events, it’s a significant revenue generator for the site. Striking on Black Friday was discussed among the members of the bargaining committee, and it’s a pressure point that we could apply. We didn’t take the decision lightly at all and we’re very, very pleased that we have 100% of our members committed to walking out.

And what are you asking for readers to do this weekend? 

Avoid the site entirely. We’re asking readers to support our action here

No purchases through Wirecutter over the weekend basically through Monday.

What has been your role in all of this?

I was not part of the original group that began the organizing. That was other folks who did a wonderful job, including keeping it secret until we announced that we’d done it. 

I just agreed to join the bargaining committee. Back when we started, I thought about my experience as the president of my residential co-op in Queens. I have been president for like eight years. It’s a big co-op of about 450 units. I just had a certain amount of experience with big meetings, with tough projects, and with being deposed in lawsuits. I’d hoped that would prove pretty useful. If I’m honest, the bargaining process is very different from what I expected. It was an awful lot of passing papers back and forth without a ton of open discussion. So I would not give myself too many pats on the back for what I’ve done.

A lot of our readers are younger journalists, particularly younger journalists of color. And I wonder, what advice do you have for younger journalists that are interested in joining a newsroom with a union shop, unionizing their own newsroom, or getting started with union organizing? 

It’s become very clear during bargaining, the absolutely vital connection between well-paid paying jobs with worker protections and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. If a job doesn’t pay well enough, that creates absolute barriers to people accepting an offer especially if they can’t afford the job and have to go somewhere else. 

The importance of a unionized newsroom really can’t be overestimated.

Our stories are funded by readers like you. 

The Objective is a nonprofit newsroom holding journalism accountable for past and current systemic biases in reporting and newsroom practices. We are written by and for those underrepresented in journalism.

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