HarperCollins employees strike for a better workplace

photo courtesy of google commons

photo courtesy of google commons

Over the past two months, more than 250 HarperCollins employees have protested for three changes: more diverse staff, union protection, and liveable wages.

Although the strike only began a couple months ago, the problem arose at the end of 2021 when negotiations began between HarperCollins and their employees over these concerns. However, since April of the following year, members of the union UAW Local 2110 have worked without a contract for HarperCollins. 

Chagrin Falls High School and Middle School Librarian, Ms. Angie Jameson, first heard about the strike through Twitter. With the employees asking for these pressing changes, Ms. Jameson has struggled with deciding what books to supply the library.

“A lot of the books I purchase come from HarperCollins. I was making a book publishing list and I was like, ‘should I not buy these books?’ I probably should really think about where my books are coming from,” Ms. Jameson shared. “I do have a limited budget though, so I have to think about what’s best for my students here. So it’s hard. It’s a big ethical question. Do I strike with them and not purchase from HarperCollins, or do I get the books that I know kids want to read right now?”

Junior Natalie Nemunaitis, President of the CFHS Book Club, also struggles with finding books for her own club.

“It’s already hard to pick books that everyone will like and now it’s even harder because I have to think of who publishes the books. I’m still not sure what I’m going to do, and if I’m going to pick books from publishers like them,” Nemunaitis explained.

In October, HarperCollins let many employees go to cut costs. According to Olga Brudastova, president of the HarperCollins union, six of the fired employees were part of the union.

Despite cutting costs, HarperCollins remains one of the “Big 5” publishers with over 200,000 books under their belt. Popular titles include “The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller, “They Both Die at the End” by Adam Silvera, and “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas.

Senior Olivia Wirbel read “The Hate U Give” and as a book lover, she struggles over the concerns brought up by the HarperCollins employees.

 “I really enjoyed “The Hate U Give”, and I’ve definitely read other books from them [HarperCollins]. But in the future, I don’t know if I want to buy from HarperCollins. I know there’s different authors I like who are part of HarperCollins, I just don’t know if I should choose to support the authors or the publisher,” Wirbel shared.

HarperCollins employees are asking for a minimum starting salary of $50,000 while it currently rests at $45,000. They also hope to add more diversity into the workforce as the publishing industry remains disproportionately white throughout all major publishing houses. According to a report from PEN America, over 74% of Penguin Random House’s workforce is overwhelmingly white.

“It’s important for any company to have a diverse staff so the young people who will take our jobs eventually can see themselves in roles,” Ms. Jameson said. “Let’s say we have a young black female student who really wants to go into publishing, and then she looks up the employment board for HarperCollins and it’s all white men. She’s not going to see herself in that role. I want students and young people to see themselves in any role they want to.”

Ms. Jameson also writes reviews for School Library Journal where she focuses on highlighting diverse titles. In the school library, she showcases diverse authors and books in a different way.

“We also do book promotion through our Library To Go bags where we’ll promote different themes whether that’s mental health, whether that’s black history month, or a genre. I’m always trying to pull diverse experiences and books with characters that are diverse in a lot of ways, not just race, but socioeconomic status, religion, sexual orientation. I’m always trying to promote books to the people who need them for windows or mirrors. Maybe I think someone needs to read a book that’s reflecting their experience to give them relatable content, but maybe I think someone needs a book that’s gonna show them someone else’s life,” Ms. Jameson explained.

The latest strike took place on January 18, marking over fifty days since employees started protesting. Authors around the world support the cause as well. R.F. Kuang, bestselling author of “The Poppy War” and “Babel”, protested HarperCollins’ treatment of their employees at a rally she co-hosted in December. She called out the publisher for its lack of diversity, and the importance for authors to support the workers who put their books on shelves.

Ms. Jameson hopes students can learn from the employees’ and supporters’ efforts.

“If there’s a union in your profession, I encourage students to join that union if they can because they do things like this,” Ms. Jameson shared. “They fight for fair wages and they fight for safety and they fight for the rights of all their employees. This experience would help them learn about the benefits of being in a union.”