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'New Yorker' Union Strike Still Looms After Protest Reaches Anna Wintour's Doorstep


You can't eat prestige. That's just one of the protest messages that greeted media mogul Anna Wintour on Tuesday night.



UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Workers get nada.

CORNISH: About a hundred union members with The New Yorker and other publications marched outside Wintour's upscale home in Greenwich Village. They say for too long they've been expected to accept low wages in exchange for the glow of working for parent company Conde Nast. Wintour is Conde Nast's chief content officer, and the protest evoked comparisons to Marie Antoinette. Elahe Izadi has been reporting on the protests for The Washington Post, and she joins us now. Welcome to the program.

ELAHE IZADI: Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: So we're going to talk about Anna Wintour in a bit. But first, I want to talk about this clash between Conde Nast and its workers. What are the issues at hand? What's the stalemate over?

IZADI: Yeah, so The New Yorker formed its union three years ago, and it's been locked in negotiations over its first contract, which is a contract that would lay out employee benefits, pay - a range of issues. And the other piece of this is that the union has sort of portrayed the company as dragging its feet on these negotiations. And that is a narrative that the company counters. It says they only received the proposals at the end of 2020 and that, actually, they haven't been negotiating that long over some of these issues.

CORNISH: What do the workers say? I mean, some of this sounds pretty standard, but we're also talking about at least public perception, the perception of - maybe informed by the movie "The Devil Wears Prada" - that these are, like, super fancy offices, wealthy people doing incredible jobs in the center of the media universe, right? But what do the workers say it's like?

IZADI: You know, there are some people who've been working for The New Yorker for two decades and make less than $60,000 a year and living in one of the most expensive cities in the country, if not the world. These are workers who are copy editors, web producers, fact-checkers. They're doing, you know, the invisible, sort of behind-the-scenes work. And they say it's actually not as glamorous as one would think if you work at a place as prestigious as The New Yorker, really the emblem of elite magazine journalism.

CORNISH: How does this reflect a broader trend in the media industry, considering how important New York is in that scene? Because this is not the only place where we're hearing about unions.

IZADI: Yeah, there's been a wave of unionization at media companies across the country and especially New York City, kind of the epicenter of the media industry in recent years. And it's really at an interesting point within the industry where - beset by layoffs, beset by, you know, changes in advertising and the business model, you know, revenue, all of these things. And these workers feel very vulnerable.

CORNISH: So here we are with one of the most powerful editors, you know, in media with these workers at her doorstep, quite literally. Is there anything about this that makes her vulnerable in this moment?

IZADI: I don't know whether it impacts her standing at all within the company or within the industry, since she's not directly involved in the negotiations and in this fight. But she sort of represents for a lot of people this sort of high-power, well-paid executive who could never really relate to the reality of what it's like to be a worker at The New Yorker who's making $50-, $60,000, $42,000 a year - that's the base salary at the moment - and living in New York City, that, really, the reality of what it means to work there is incongruous with the reputation of the magazine and its place within American culture. That's how the workers feel.

CORNISH: So help us understand what's going to happen next. What's been the reaction from the company to this move?

IZADI: When the union announced that they were going to do this protest in front of Anna Wintour's house, the company said, essentially, we respect the right of employees to organize and to demonstrate, but doing so in front of an employee's home is unacceptable. Aside from that, the union has signaled that a strike is imminent. They've asked readers to not cancel their subscriptions but to not click any links to The New Yorker website, open its app. And they've also asked staff writers, many of whom are contract workers, to not contribute to the magazine or do work for the magazine during a strike, which, if it's called, could seriously hamper the production of the magazine or grind it to a halt altogether.

CORNISH: Elahe Izadi has been reporting on this protest at The New Yorker for The Washington Post. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

IZADI: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.
Ashley Brown is a senior editor for All Things Considered.
Mano Sundaresan is a producer at NPR.