“We don’t aspire to pay living wages.”
That’s what a representative of The Seattle Times Company said in a collective bargaining session last week, according to the Seattle Times Digital Union. The union posted the statement on Twitter Friday, April 2, generating ire from local journalists and subscribers alike. The union also quoted management as saying that journalism is “not a path that is highly rewarding early in your career” and that “it’s not uncommon to struggle.” The union said that the company rejected all of their proposals at the end of the meeting.
A number of Times journalists who are members of the paper’s larger union tweeted in support of the Digital Union, lamenting that the attitude exhibited by the company is what steers young journalists — and particularly journalists of color — away from the profession. A representative from the company declined to comment for this article.
The Seattle Times Digital Union, which officially joined the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild in September 2020 after months of push back from the company, held their first collective bargaining session in February 2021. Last week’s session was the third in a series of regular meetings between the union and the company. The union members hope to schedule the next meeting for late April.
Michelle Baruchman, an engagement editor for The Times and a member of the Digital Union’s bargaining committee said the recent monthly bargaining sessions have focused on pushing for more predictable schedules for producers — those in charge of curating the website, updating social media platforms and monitoring reader analytics and trends for the paper.
“As it is, there have been cases where people don’t know when they’re working more than a week in advance,” Baruchman said. She added that a high rate of turnover among producers can “throw everything into disarray” when one employee leaves and others are asked to fill in. One of the union’s requests has been that the company hire a minimum number of producers to reduce potential chaos when an employee leaves or goes on vacation.
Part of the issue, Baruchman said, is that “chaos, complicated by low pay, has led to burnout and high turnover, particularly among younger people, women and people of color.”
Baruchman said the union didn’t officially address salaries in last week’s session but plans to in future meetings. The Times’ management’s statement about wages came in response to a testimony from Mohammed Kloub, a former news producer for The Times, who now works at Crosscut. Kloub said that he was making an annual salary of around $45,000 as a producer at The Times.
“I grew up in a working class, immigrant household, and in a lot of those households, when your parents work minimum wage jobs, when you grow up and start having an income, they kind of rely on you financially,” he said.
Between covering his own living expenses and supporting his family financially, Kloub said he had little left to save for the future. Kloub pointed to the company’s Commitment to Diversity on its career page and said that if the paper truly aspires to hire people of color and those from low-income backgrounds, his perspective might be useful.
While some on Twitter responded to the Digital Union’s tweet by threatening to cancel their Seattle Times subscription, Baruchman said the union would rather readers continue to subscribe while also voicing their support for Times employees.
“We want The Seattle Times to succeed. But as part of that, we also need to advocate for ourselves,” she said.
Christy Carley is a freelance journalist in Seattle and former English teacher in Spain. Find her on Twitter @christy_carley.
Read more in the Apr. 7-13, 2021 issue.