Employees at the New York office of Oxford University Press announced Wednesday that they are unionizing.
“We are taking this step to advocate for ourselves and for the future of this company,” they said in a press statement. The union will represent about 165 editors, designers and sales and marketing staff.
“We believe in OUP’s excellence in research and scholarship, its academic publishing and its not-for-profit mission,” said Jamie Burns, a media editor. “We believe that by forming a union we can advocate for ourselves and make all those parts of our mission more excellent.”
Scott Morales, department coordinator in the office of strategy and transformation, said that after a year and a half of organizing, “It’s just so thrilling,” to announce their plans. But the work is just beginning, he said. “We’ll have to fight to get recognition and negotiate a contract.”
Morales got involved in the union organizing effort after serving on the company’s social committee. Eventually he began to wonder if he and the other party-planners were just putting a band-aid on problems. Morale was chronically low, pay was below industry standards, job classifications and responsibilities were unclear and turnover was high, he said.
Over the course of the organizing effort, he learned from female colleagues that sexual harassment was a problem and from coworkers of color that racial harassment was ongoing.
Organizers have asked management to voluntarily recognize the OUP USA Guild, noting that the Guild has the support of an “overwhelming majority” of eligible workers. They will join the News Media Guild local. OUP employees in the U.K. and India already have union representation.
“We are aware of many changes across the publishing industry and believe that collective bargaining is the best way to ensure that our company stays strong and vibrant for years to come,” they said.
“We also believe that these goals are best achieved through a union, a democratic body composed of those who make OUP’s mission a reality: the workers.”
OUP was formed in 1586 in the U.K. and is the largest university press in the world. It has had a presence in New York City since 1896. As such, it “stands in a privileged position to lead the industry by example, inspiring progress among its peers,” organizers said.
Workers identified their priorities as:
- Job security in a diverse workplace
- Dignified salary and benefits that keep pace with cost of living
- Defined job responsibilities, reporting structures, workload, and company policies
- Improved career development and evaluative processes
- Comprehensive action to resolve issues of sexual harassment and a longstanding, unsustainable rate of attrition