HarperCollins workers are fighting their boss to change the crushing schedules and low pay that make the industry run.

by Kim Kelly, FastCompany

With the air getting colder and the holidays approaching, it feels like a perfect time to curl up with a good book. But instead of cozying up for a well-deserved break, hundreds of publishing workers in New York City have been braving the cold and walking the picket line.

The HarperCollins Union, which represents more than 250 employees, has been on strike since November 10. HarperCollins is the only one of the Big Five publishers (which also include Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House, Hachette Book Group, and Macmillan) with a unionized workforce, which it’s had for more than 80 years.

HarperCollins workers striking in solidarity with NYT workers

There are a number of university presses and smaller publishers who have unionized in recent years, and a small crop of unionized bookstores (including the Strand and McNally Jackson) in New York City. But the HarperCollins Union, with its decades of history and big-fish status, is the only one of its kind for now. The challenges its workers face are endemic throughout the publishing industry, which has long relied on workers’ passion for books to offset low pay and crushing schedules.

While some are working to change the status quo, the industry also remains glaringly lacking in racial diversity. Workers of color who lack the financial support that their more privileged peers enjoy can’t sustain themselves with low-paying jobs and are therefore pushed out. These wider concerns are reflected in the union’s demands. The HarperCollins Union’s major ask is a raise in wages that would hike the company’s salary minimum to just $50,000.

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