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Class War For Idiots / Dispatch / September 20, 2012
By Mike Elk

This article is cross-posted from In These Times

On September 13, two-time Pulitzer-Prize-winning New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof penned an op-ed titled “Students Over Unions” bashing the Chicago Teachers Union’s current strike. Kristof writes,

I’d be sympathetic if the union focused solely on higher compensation. Teachers need to be much better paid to attract the best college graduates to the nation’s worst schools. But, instead, the Chicago union seems to be using its political capital primarily to protect weak performers.

Ironically, when Kristof started off at the Times in the 1980s, he was protected by similar job-security provisions as a member of the Newspaper Guild of New York. When Kristof become a columnist for the paper, he ceased being a union member. Now that Kristof is a star, union members say that he has given them the cold shoulder when they have asked for help in restoring pensions to the foreign overseas employees who have very likely helped Kristof in his reporting.

In January, the New York Times froze the pensions of its non-U.S.-citizen overseas employees, many of whom work in dangerous hotspots as translators and fixers. The move greatly upset New York Times reporters, especially with two recent deaths of foreign employees: the 2009 killing of reporter Sultan Munadi (a former Times interpreter) in Afghanistan while he was trying to protect a Times reporter, and of Times translator Khalid W. Hassan outside of Baghdad in 2007.

More than 600 New York Times employees condemned the pension freeze in an open letter to New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr, last December. “Our foreign citizen employees in overseas bureaus have just had their pensions frozen with only a week’s warning. Some of these people have risked their lives so that we can do our jobs,” read the letter. “A couple have even lost them. Many have spent their entire careers at the Times—indeed, some have letters from your father explaining the pension system—and deserve better treatment.”

One union member says he wrote to Kristof–who has won two Pulitzers for his overseas reporting and surely worked with New York Times’ foreign employees–and asked him to sign the letter. He says Kristof ignored him.

“I was one of the several authors of the letter. At the time, I wrote individually to all the columnists [except Krugman] asking them to consider signing it. Because some had been foreign correspondents and had depended on those people who were being unilaterally screwed out of their pensions and who had no union protection, I hoped they would step forward,” says New York Times science reporter Donald McNeil. “But not one signed. Not one even answered my note. Since then, I’ve hoped that at least one or two would weigh in on our struggle here. But nothing. Silence.”

Nicholas Kristof did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Currently, the New York Times is locked in an ugly contract struggle with the union that Kristof once belonged to, the Newspaper Guild of New York. The reporters at the New York Times have worked without a contract for nearly a year and a half, since their previous contract expired on March 31, 2011. (Full disclosure: I am an associate member of the Newspaper Guild (TNG-CWA).)

As the contract battle heats up at the New York Times, union leaders such as O’Meara are hoping more star reporters and columnists speak up. He fears that the New York Times is going to seek an impasse in bargaining with the National Labor Relations Board in order to unilaterally impose a concessionary contract on unionized reporters.

The New York Times is also trying to eliminate pensions for its U.S. employees, according to Newspaper Guild of New York President Bill O’Meara. Another big sticking point in contract negotiations is that the New York Times wants to further increase employee healthcare costs, which are already high. “According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the typical worker at a large company pays 24 percent of his or her total health premiums, with the company paying 76 percent. But we at the Times pay 46 percent of our total health premiums—nearly double the nationwide employee average—while the Times pays just 54 percent,” wrote veteran Times labor reporter Steven Greenhouse in an email to union members that was leaked to the press in April.

“People think they are stars and don’t need a union. Unfortunately, what happens is there is a change in management and their star dims a bit, and they do need a union,” says Bill O’Meara. “It’s a real shame.”

Life’s good at the top!

As someone who attempted to organize reporters myself as part of the Newspaper Guild, I can tell you that solidarity can be difficult to find in reporters whose job security comes from their byline and not their union clout. It’s not an uncommon phenomenon for star reporters or columnists to stay out of union struggles, feeling that their jobs are protected by the power of their brands. Reporters as popular as Kristof, who has over 1 million Twitter followers, are the least likely to suffer a pay cut or a layoff, as the New York Times could ill afford to lose them.

But other Times reporters may face a tougher situation.

“I think it is going to come to a head in the next month,” says O’Meara. “The struggle is going to get very difficult. Various things are going to happen. Nobody is ruling out a strike. Obviously we want to avoid it and get a contract.”

This article is cross-posted from In These Times

Mike Elk is an eXiled comrade and a staff writer at In These Times. Read his labor reporting…

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  • 1. euro-dude  |  September 20th, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    If eXiled readers are too fucking cheap to pay the War Nerd $3/month for his labor, then they should be court-martialed, shot, and fed to the birds.

  • 2. Epsilon  |  September 20th, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    Climbing to the top and then kicking the stairs.

    What a classy fellow.

  • 3. fitness water  |  September 20th, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    There’s nothing more fucking pathetic than fuck-you-got-mine people. They deserve all the pretend stress they inflict on themselves over private school tuition and paying their illegal maids below minimum wage, and all the hours at the therapist they spend talking about how they just don’t know where it all went wrong. And worse, probably

  • 4. DrktkDan  |  September 21st, 2012 at 2:51 am

    Yeah when I found out it was only 3 bucks a month i nearly fell out of my fucking chair. Hell the exile ‘silver’ subscription is only 5 but they don’t have a paywall. It took me a while to find the scrip option.
    Def the way to go for us broke losers. 8 a month for both? Fuck yeah I can afford that.
    Wait, why are we talking about this?

    I do enjoy the Elk pieces. Makes me feel pretty useless knowing how young he is and comparing my own petty accomplishments. IN THESE TIMES is a great paper, or website or whatever the hell you are supposed to call it. Platform? (haha.)

  • 5. Dimitri Ratz  |  September 21st, 2012 at 7:47 am

    I would advocate boycotting the Times until it respects the pensions regardless of citizenship, but it’s lack of really including the details in its pieces has me already ignoring it. They probably don’t need anybody on the ground, because they’re simply not using it.

  • 6. Cavoyo  |  September 21st, 2012 at 10:25 pm

    Going Postal Watch:

  • 7. Nate  |  September 22nd, 2012 at 12:52 am

    This dude’s a punkass bitch, a regular Uncle Tom! He doesn’t mind letting everyone else get whipped as long as his ass gets to enjoy some fine living.

    “As someone who attempted to organize reporters myself as part of the Newspaper Guild, I can tell you that solidarity can be difficult to find in reporters whose job security comes from their byline and not their union clout. It’s not an uncommon phenomenon for star reporters or columnists to stay out of union struggles, feeling that their jobs are protected by the power of their brands. Reporters as popular as Kristof, who has over 1 million Twitter followers, are the least likely to suffer a pay cut or a layoff, as the New York Times could ill afford to lose them.”

    Nigga, yo ass may have a 1 million Twitter followers, but yo ass should get eat a million dicks!

  • 8. euro-dude  |  September 22nd, 2012 at 8:39 am

    The Exiled Online readers’ strike is temporarily suspended, given that the newest Gary Brecher – War Nerd article, was liberated from being put behind the ‘Not Safe for Work Corporation’ paywall.

    However, the previous and thus penultimate War Nerd article, ‘Beverly Hills Copt’, is still hidden there from impoverished readers, hostage to a US $3 per month fee on a bank card (which many of us Europeans do not even own) … to be paid to ‘150 Las Vegas Blvd N, Las Vegas, NV 89101’ and then placed on either Red or Black.

    Is Gary Brecher really hiding out in Vegas now instead of Fresno?

    Shouldn’t reader payments get a chance at sharing the roulette wheel winnings? Or are the casino profits going toward liberating Gary from his sweat-inducing day job?

    Isn’t it more profitable to pursue clever internet marketing and make money from ad revenues … you know, post links to the Exiled on popular places all over the rest of the Web, till the Google Ad Bux start rolling in? And am I really that much of a dumbshit that I believe that the ad revenue model works? Am I really such a worthless cheap Eurofag that I really can’t handle paying 1.5 euros each month, the cost of a 2-liter bottle of Diet Coke, to NSFW CORP to support Gary Brecher so that he might continue his brilliant work and keep pumping out 2 War Nerd columns per week? I’m too fuckingcheap to pay $3 for that? Please, someone kill me, and all of my fellow countrymen. Add “Yogurt-eating tightwad-monkey” to “surrender monkey” to describe Eurofags like me.

  • 9. euro-dude  |  September 22nd, 2012 at 8:52 am

    P S comment # 1 above from a ‘euro-dude’ is from me … I was a crass, wish they had censoring here and that someone could write the opposite of my actual retarded comment, which was this:

    « Exiled Online commenters may go on a “retards’ strike” because we’re too fucking retarded to realize that the War Nerd should be paid for his work … »

    Pretty LOW intelligence from eurofags like me … stolen genes! … And you are supposed to give a shit about whether I am man enough to put a bank card here? No wonder we needed America to rescue us in WW2.

  • 10. Something  |  September 22nd, 2012 at 5:04 pm

    I guess union journos hold up much less than half the sky.

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