‘This Is the Way It’s Always Been’: HarperCollins Workers Fight to End Historic Cycle of Unfair Wages

‘This Is the Way It’s Always Been’: HarperCollins Workers Fight to End Historic Cycle of Unfair Wages

When Rachel Kambury, 31, started working at publishing house Hachette six years ago, her manager sat her down and said, “I’m so happy you’re here. “

Courtesy of Rachel Kambury

Supporters sent bagels and assorted snacks to strikers on the picket line.

She was very grateful. Kambury recalls, “I was certainly happy being there.” “But then he said, ‘You actually beat out 400 other people for this job. Kambury felt honored and validated when she was selected over hundreds of other applicants for the coveted position. Though the role was her dream job, the salary was less-than-desirable. It was 2016, and Kambury was earning around $33,000 — before taxes.

“I quickly came to this realization of, Oh, that’s how they justify these salaries, because there were 400 people who were ready and willing to take my spot,” she says. They know this and take it as a given. “

Kambury has since moved on to other publishing companies; she’s currently an associate editor at HarperCollins. She’s now well into her career, has worked on dozens of bestsellers and has bid on books for up to $500,000 — and yet, “I’m only making about $13 an hour after taxes,” she says.

Kambury is one of the hundreds of unionized HarperCollins employees currently picketing for fair pay and better working standards. Kambury says that the strike, which started on November 10, will continue until the employees negotiate a fair contract. The union represents about 250 employees, who have been working without a contract since April, according to the New York Times.

Day 2: Picketing in the rain. We are grateful to everyone who cheered and honked and donated food to keep us going today. #hcponstrike pic.twitter.com/YmtMC9V9Gw

— Erika DiPasquale (@ErDiPasquale) November 11, 2022

Related: 3 Lessons Employers Can Learn From the ‘Great Unionization’

The movement has garnered support from others in the publishing industry, world-renowned authors and online supporters voicing their solidarity. The widespread attention has brought to light, as Kambury points out, that it’s not just HarperCollins — it’s pretty much all of publishing.

” Kambury describes it as a combination of hazing, elimination and the process of elimination. “This goes for all of the major publishers and some of the smaller ones — they’ve built their business over the years more and more on the exploitation of labor. They recruit as many college-educated students as possible. “

Kambury doesn’t refer to “hazing” as such, but subtle manipulation by those in power that reinforces the problems that have made publishing a ruthless industry for decades.

“You hear things like, ‘This is the way it’s always been,’ and, ‘When I started I was at $14,000 a year,'” she says. “So, there is this kind of top-down treatment for young employees where it’s like, “You should be grateful that you’re here. Don’t be unhappy about the salary. Don’t worry about the workload. ‘”

Kambury points out another key problem in the publishing industry today: The generational difference wherein higher-ups who have been in the industry for decades will now “pat themselves on the back” for approving overtime or granting paid time off. Kambury says she’s been “lucky” enough to have managers who approve her overtime, but she has friends in the industry whose managers do not even let them log it — but that doesn’t mean they aren’t working 10-15 extra hours a week, because Kambury says that’s a given.

Day 3 of picket line! @hcpunion #hcponstrike pic.twitter.com/Pj30lbOTwG

— Courtney Stevenson (@courtney_ps) November 14, 2022

The strikers are asking for three major changes. The strikers are asking for three major changes. First, a raise of base salaries. Second, an adjustment to certain ranges to ensure that there isn’t wage compression. A commitment to codify language in the contract to ensure that diversity commitments are not just words. It also ensures that the company follows through on what the words mean. Third, stronger union protections.

Related: An Apple Store in Maryland Is the First to Unionize in the U.S.: ‘We Did It Towson! ‘

When they started this process back in December 2021, the union stewards put together about six pages of proposals Kambury says were “very doable, nothing crazy. Now we are down to three — not pages — just three demands. “

What frustrates Kambury, and many others on the picket lines, is that they believe their demands are fairly standard. It’s more difficult than one might think, however, as the publishing industry was built on low-paid labor systems, it’s not an easy task. Kambury states that the company has made it clear that they regard us as disposable, disposable, and replaceable. Kambury says it’s an awful feeling. “

Despite the circumstances Kambury claims that the energy on the picket lines — and online — are “electrical and inspiring.” “

“I would bottle it and make it into a perfume. It would be a daily wearable item for me. It’s so comfortable. “

The strikers have been picketing since November 10 and intend to press on, rain or shine. HarperCollins did no immediate respond to a request for comment.

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