Time Inc. wants to transform itself into a new-media company, but it’s dogged by old-school union battles. The Newspaper Guild of New York on Monday accused the storied magazine company of violating labor laws by unilaterally imposing a new set of working conditions that could lead to the outsourcing of dozens of jobs for union journalists.
The guild, which represents about 200 Time Inc. workers -- including journalists for Time magazine, Sports Illustrated, People and Fortune -- has been negotiating for a new collective bargaining agreement, but talks between the two parties broke down earlier this year.
In November, Time Inc. made what it called a “last, best and final” offer, and subsequently implemented its new terms and conditions, claiming negotiations with the guild had reached a legal impasse. Labor laws permit employers to take such steps if good-faith bargaining ultimately proves unsuccessful.
But union officials say the talks have been unsuccessful because Time Inc. management has been unwilling to budge, and Time is invoking an “impasse” as an excuse to get what it wants.
“We disagree that they’ve reached an impasse,” said Antony Napoli, a guild representative who has been negotiating with Time Inc. “Every proposal we’ve put on the table, they’ve rejected. They want it the way they want it.”
Napoli said Time is insisting on the freedom to be able to outsource union jobs to foreign countries that pay considerably less for services like copyediting or writing. He cited an Aug. 5 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission in which Time said it would increase efficiency through “global sourcing of staff.”
In a charge filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the guild accused Time Inc. of engaging in unfair labor practices by implementing changes to working conditions without union approval. In a release Monday, the guild called Time Inc.’s new terms “quality-gutting,” saying it will erode the journalistic standards that built Time’s reputation.
“Time Inc. management seems to be willing to degrade the high quality of its magazines by implementing its contract proposals even though it has no legal right to do so and even though guild members overwhelmingly voted against them,” said Bill O’Meara, president of the Newspaper Guild of New York, in a statement. “We hope the NLRB moves quickly on our charges.”
A Time spokesperson defended the decision to implement new terms, saying the company had tried for more than a year and a half to bargain in good faith with the union.
Time Inc., which spun off from Time Warner Inc. earlier this year, still derives much of its revenue from ink and paper. But with print advertising drying up and newsstand sales dwindling, CEO Joe Ripp has sought to reinvent the magazine giant for the digital era, where nimbler media companies like BuzzFeed and Vox Media are thriving -- in part because they’re able to do more with less.
“To successfully transform Time Inc. for growth we must have the flexibility to respond to a rapidly changing market,” the Time spokesperson said. “To that end, we will continue to think and act in the best interests of all our employees -- not just the 200 members of the Guild.”
Napoli said his members understand that times are changing and have done everything they can to meet the company halfway, including volunteering for nonunion projects on Time Inc. websites. “If they’re hiding behind the notion that our members are stopping them from adapting, that’s an outright lie,” he said. “We’re a small percentage of their workforce. We’re not holding them back from anything.”