· 4 min read
New York Times tech workers staged a half-day strike on Oct. 30, saying management at the newspaper is refusing to negotiate in good faith over return-to-office (RTO) policies.
The Times Tech Guild (TTG) represents Times digital staffers including software engineers, product managers, and data analysts, who overwhelmingly voted (404–88) to form a union with the NewsGuild of New York in 2022. The union, the largest in the US tech sector with bargaining rights, is still negotiating its first contract with the Times. Bloomberg reported around 150 guild members and supporters protested outside the Times offices, while others participated in a work stoppage.
At issue is the Times’ RTO policy, which the paper’s management insists was initiated before it recognized TTG last year. Members of the guild, in turn, say the newspaper has a legal obligation to bargain in good faith about remote work.
After an employer recognizes a union, federal law prohibits it from unilaterally implementing changes to members’ preexisting terms and conditions of employment (the “status quo”) until a contract is signed. According to Bloomberg, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) says it concluded the Times is violating that law with its RTO mandate and will issue a complaint if a settlement is not reached.
Danielle Rhoades Ha, a Times spokesperson, told IT Brew the Times has rejected one NLRB-proposed settlement but, “There has been no hearing, no decision,” as the company has yet to hear when the dispute will be taken up before an administrative judge. She said working from home was “always meant to be temporary” at the Times during the Covid-19 pandemic and the new policy would require most workers to show up two or three times a week.
“Everyone very much likes hybrid working,” Rhoades Ha added.
Semafor’s Max Tani has previously tweeted that Times management has said they may enforce the policy by reviewing badge swipe data.
Top insights for IT pros
From cybersecurity and big data to cloud computing, IT Brew covers the latest trends shaping business tech in our 3x weekly newsletter, virtual events with industry experts, and digital guides.
The TTG did not respond to IT Brew’s request for comment on this story, but unit chair Kathy Zhang told Reuters the RTO policy is designed to intimidate unit members during protracted negotiations.
“The Times is now not only refusing to recognize our rights to bargain on return-to-office but is now going a step further and using it as a tactic to intimidate us,” Zhang told Reuters. “The company continues to act like we don’t exist.”
Organizers have made progress attempting to unionize white-collar workers in tech over the past few years, though mass layoffs at companies including Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft in 2022 was a setback. An NLRB decision in August 2023 limiting employers’ ability to avoid recognizing and bargaining with new unions is likely to fuel further organizing in tech.
While an August 2023 Resume Builder report found around 90% of companies plan to implement RTO policies by the end of 2024, another Envoy and Hanover Research poll released around the same time found 80% of executives regretted their initial handling of RTO. Six out of 10 tech workers said they prefer working from home full-time in a 2022 poll, while just 37% of remote or hybrid tech workers told Morning Consult they had any degree of interest in returning to their roles in a full-time, in-person capacity.
This isn’t the TTG’s first strike. In 2021, months after the NLRB filed a complaint accusing Times management of unlawful interference, TTG members staged a walkout in protest of what the guild said was continuing illegal tactics.