Blog, Bookish Life, Social Justice

Taking Back Our Power: A Voice from the HarperCollins Strike

If you are following the news of the publishing world, you probably know about the HarperCollins strike happening. The HarperCollins’s union was created over 60 years ago to ensure fair pay, benefits, workers’ rights, and job security. The union voted overwhelmingly to go on strike, and the strike began on November 10th, 2022. Finally, on January 26, 2023, HarperCollins has agreed to enter mediation. At this time, we are still waiting for updates and a fair contract.

From the @hcpunion Instagram

We wanted to get a more personal look at the experiences behind the strike. I got to interview MC (initials provided for privacy sake), an employee at HarperCollins and union member. MC provided an intimate account of what strike, union, and publishing life is like.

FBC: What is your story? Who are you as a person?

MC: I’m Ecuadorian-American and was born and raised in NYC (Washington Heights and the Bronx). I was always a lover of books, and as a shy, introverted young girl, reading books brought to life exciting worlds that I thirsted to experience. Once I found out you can get paid to read and help authors craft their written artworks, I was sold. My dream was becoming an editor at a top 5, and I still have to pinch myself at times! I don’t want to leave this industry, and I don’t see myself doing anything else. I’m a fighter and have a stubborn head on my shoulders. It’s gotten me this far, haha. 

I can go on forever! However, as a person, I see myself as someone who values love, empathy, and open-mindfulness. I’d like to continue to work hard and raise my voice for a better industry, and more broadly, a better world.

FBC: What is your personal experience with the strike and being a part of the union?

MC: I’m very proud and happy to be part of the union. I’ve been lucky to be blessed with a supportive community. We all have been through it, and knowing that we have each other’s backs means the world, especially during these challenging times. Overall, being on strike is tough: my partner and I live paycheck to paycheck (and I help my family financially as well). However, I don’t regret going on strike at all. The fight will not be over until we get that fair contract! 

FBC: Do you think you personally benefit from being in a union? Why or why not?

MC: Yes! As a woman of color, this industry can be tough to navigate. People have biases, and microaggressions are common in publishing. Often, the expectations are much higher for women of color in publishing than for our white counterparts: these expectations can be draining and exhausting. Without the union, I would’ve probably left publishing a long time ago. I always say that the union is like our worker’s insurance. The company’s main objective is not my well-being; it’s making money for the company’s shareholders. The union, on the other hand, is there to protect the workers!! Publishing loves to take advantage of their workers and their passions, and the union is there to stop that by being by our side.

FBC: What were your thoughts when you first heard about the strike?

MC: I was scared! This past season, I was planning to launch (or present) my first titles: often a meaningful moment for young editors. But unfortunately, I couldn’t, and it broke my heart because there are HOURS of work behind every one of my titles. Still, fear is part of courage. It’s how one acts based on their fears that’s important. I knew that I wanted to be part of the change from the very beginning of my publishing career. I also knew it was going to be uncomfortable and scary, but what we’re fighting for is much bigger than our own personal fears and discomforts. 

FBC:  What are your feelings about the power of striking?

MC: As you can probably tell from my answers, I think the power of striking is vast! The company can’t function without its workers: that’s become very clear these past few months. We are taking back our power right now, and it’s beautiful to feel and see our collective voices demanding change! Publishing is due for a reckoning, and striking allows for that to happen! That’s immensely powerful!! 

FBC: What are your hopes for the future?

MC: I hope for an inclusive, diversified publishing industry. Right now, it’s a very white, economically privileged industry. As a first-generation Ecuadorian-American, I am acutely aware that my background is different from most of my colleagues. That shouldn’t be the case in 2023! I know of a lot of (talented, brilliant, fantastic) people that left publishing because the pay was so low, or their managers were not promoting them fairly due to biases, microaggressions, and/or just blatant racism. It’s known that minorities in this industry have to prove that they can “do the job,” while white colleagues follow a steady timeline regarding promotions. Publishing shouldn’t be elitist, but it is. And that’s not acceptable when we’re the gatekeepers of the literary world. 

FBC: What is the most important thing you want supporters to know about the strike?

MC: I want supporters to know that we are all aware of the stakes here, and we are all fighting the best way we can. Their support means the world to us; it gives us strength on days when getting out of bed is a little harder than usual. Truly, without them, we wouldn’t have reached day 60 and counting. So, overall I want to say: thank you so much, and we will try our absolute best not to let you guys, and overall the publishing community, down. The fight isn’t over yet!  

You can support the HarperCollins Union and strike in the following ways:

Tayler Simon is a nerdy black woman in search of liberation for all. When she's not reading/listening to audiobooks and writing, you can find her laughing at memes and chatting incessantly about astrology (Cancer/Sagittarius/Cancer). Favorite genres: African American fiction and memoir.

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