New York Times union officially files grievance over disbanding of sports desk

The New York Times Guild is pushing back.
The New York Times building in New York, NY across from the Port Authority. [Via Wikimedia Commons] The New York Times building in New York, NY across from the Port Authority. [Via Wikimedia Commons]

On Thursday, the New York Times newsroom’s union officially filed a grievance due to the company’s shutdown of the sports desk.

The Times announced its decision to shut down the sports desk last week, aiming to integrate content from The Athletic into its sports coverage while reassigning sports personnel. The Athletic’s newsroom is not unionized.

Per the Washington Post, the Times Guild’s grievance centers around The Athletic’s non-union personnel producing sports coverage rather than the Guild itself.

In a statement on Thursday, the guild said: “The Times Guild has jurisdiction over journalism jobs at The Times, yet the company is claiming it has the right to subcontract to itself and have nonunion workers do union work without the same job protections, wages and other benefits we have fought so hard to secure. These claims are preposterous on their face and a brazen attempt at union-busting.”

The Times declined to comment on the grievance, but Times spokeswoman Danielle Rhoades Ha pointed to a note written to the newsroom last week by Times chairmen A.G. Sulzberger and CEO Meredith Kopit Levien, which highlighted that the Times has added nearly 1,000 journalism jobs in recent years, half of which have been in the Times newsroom.

The guild is not challenging the dissolution of the sports desk but rather that the Times can rely on non-guild labor to produce its sports coverage, arguing that the Times is violating its collective bargaining agreement by subcontracting to itself.

The grievance process will likely be drawn out. Per the Post, the Times now has 20 days to answer the grievance. If it’s denied, the union has 45 days to request an arbitration hearing to settle the grievance. There are several possibilities that can arise from the hearing. The arbitrator could rule that the Times’ sports coverage can’t be subcontracted. The complete opposite could also be ruled, which could create a precedent allowing the Times to subcontract work to non-union employees. Another possibility is that The Athletic’s newsroom could unionize and be recognized by the Times.

Last week’s announcement about the Times’ sports desk unsurprisingly created issues. New York Times management told sports employees the company “had no control” about them possibly joining The Athletic, which has reportedly reached out to some of the staffers about joining the company. Additionally, office space at the Times has been opened up for The Athletic.

When the Times dissolved its sports desk, it assigned staffers to other desks in its newsroom — business, national, breaking news and obituaries, among them — and said there would be no layoffs. Sports staffers asked executive editor Joe Kahn during a meeting last week if they could be placed at the Athletic and were told the Times had no control over that, according to multiple present at the meeting. However, the Athletic has already reached out to multiple displaced Times sports staffers about their interest in jobs at the Athletic, according to multiple people familiar with the outreach.

The Times has also created office space at its New York headquarters for the Athletic. (One photo of the space that circulated among Athletic staffers showed cubicles, a sheet of paper with the Athletic logo on it and a whiteboard with a football drawn on it, which served to reinforce the belief among some staffers that the Times sees sports as the toy department” of the newsroom.)

Times management reportedly believes they “can use Athletic stories like they would any stories from the Associated Press or other wire services because the Athletic is a separate newsroom.”

The Times’ purchase of The Athletic was made official in February of 2022. It hasn’t been smooth sailing since, with the introduction of ads in September and a round of layoffs in June drawing plenty of ire.

[Washington Post]

About Joe Lucia

I hate your favorite team. I also sort of hate most of my favorite teams.