When Wednesday arrives, 200-odd members of the HarperCollins union will have been on strike for 50 days, the latest action in an industry that has in recent years seen workers call for (and sometimes win) higher pay, amidst a broader push for racial equity within publishing.
The demands of the HarperCollins union, part of Local 2110 of the UAW, are simple: higher pay for entry-level employees, a greater commitment to diversifying its workforce, and an end to the union’s status as an open shop, which currently bars the union from collecting dues from all employees who are eligible to join. HarperCollins, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, is the only one of the “Big Five” publishers whose workers are represented by a union, some form of which has been in place since the 1970s. (Some things never change: In 1977, the last time the union went on strike, workers held signs reading, “Editors can’t eat prestige.”)
Unlike the union’s strikes in the ’70s, which ended after a few weeks, management today seems determined to wait out the striking workers. Recently, we spoke with Laura Harshberger, the union chair and a senior production editor with HarperCollins’s children’s books division, on what the union wants, how the strike has impacted HarperCollins, and why the stakes of this strike are much bigger than just pay issues at the company. As Harshberger put it, “We believe that this is our only opportunity to make real change in this industry.”