‘Condé Nast Bosses Wear Prada — And the Workers Get Nada!’

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Author: Bob Hennelly
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“The bosses wear Prada, and the workers get nada!” chanted hundreds of News Guild CWA workers out on a one-day strike against Condé Nast, the publishing juggernaut that owns iconic titles like Vogue, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and Bon  Appetite. The boisterous picket line at the base of One World Trade Center in lower Manhattan on a damp day January 24, drew a cacophony of honking horns whizzing by on West Street. 

After a widely lauded voluntary recognition of the union back in 2022 by the privately-held global media conglomerate, the union has run into what it told Work-Bites is hardball union-busting tactics that have really intensified with the New Year. Back in October, Condé Nast CEO Roger Lynch announced the company would be shrinking its global workforce of 5,400 by 270 while also predicting  the publisher would see the “third straight year of overall revenue growth.” 

According to the union, while five-percent of the overall workforce has been targeted, the company is looking to fire 20-percent of workers in the Condé Nast unit, which would amount to an unfair labor practice. Condé Nast did not respond to an emailed request for comment. 

While the strikers chants echoed around the World Trade Center complex, Varietyreported that actress Anne Hathaway, a member of SAG-AFTRA, was in hair and make-up in preparation for a Condé Nast photo shoot when she opted to walk out in solidarity with the strikers. Ironically, Hathaway’s signature performance in the 2006 film The Devil Wears Pradaas the earnest editorial assistant Andrea “Andy” Sears to Miranda Priestly, played by Meryl Streep, offered a behind-the-scenes depiction of the haute couture fashion world widely believed to be based on Condé Nast’s Vogue.

Meanwhile, on the ground at Tuesday’s picket line, SAG-AFTRA’s members in their black tee shirts  were well represented. New York City Comptroller Brad Lander (D) and Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine were also on hand and addressed the strikers and their supporters.

“I support the Condé Nast Union,” Levine told the crowd. “I support you now as you face these layoffs. We are going to fight back with everything we’ve got to get you a fair contract to stop these layoffs — to keep this business in Manhattan — to keep human beings doing this work — we need you.” 

Lander recounted how in 2022 he wore a News Guild CWA button, amidst the early days of the union organizing drive, to the Met Gala at the Metropolitan Opera to benefit the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute that is chaired by Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue and chief content officer for Condé Nast. 

“I talked to Anna Wintour on behalf of the workers to say your workers are so proud of this brand that you have got to be proud of them, and I was encouraged when they [the company] voluntarily recognized the Condé Nast union. But recognition without good faith bargaining for a first contract is no good — and the disproportionate laying-off of your union staff is union-busting,” Lander told the crowd. 

In an internal memo last fall, obtained by the Messenger, Condé Nast CEO Lynch wrote the layoffs were necessary because the publisher’s audiences, technology, and what advertisers’ expectations had of the company were all changing. “With all of this change surrounding us, the only certain mistake is to not change ourselves,” Lynch explained to colleagues..

Alma Avalle is a writer and web producer for Bon Appetit as well as a third vice-president of the News Guild CWA who serves on the Condé Nast negotiating committee. Avalle told Work-Bites that initially, Condé Nast had offered eight weeks’ severance, three months of COBRA, and a two month moratorium on additional layoffs. But with the turn of the year, the company reversed course in what the union maintains was bad faith bargaining.

“Well, we come back in the New Year and they have cut that offer in half to four weeks. They removed a month of COBRA and they got rid of the layoff moratorium — so, we could accept this offer and there could be another 100 layoffs,” Avalle said during a picket line interview. “Last year, we spent two months coming to the table, sometimes multiple times a week, and on Jan. 2 all of that progress….was just clawed back, and we have noticed the company has gotten more and more nasty in the bargaining process — more antagonistic.”

Avalle, a Vermont native, has been with Condé Nast’s Bon Appetit for three years. She described her entry-level position as a digital editorial assistant for one of the world’s premiere food magazines as “an incredible opportunity” that combined her great lifelong passions of writing and cuisine. Union workers are working along side 1099 contractors or workers from third party contracting companies whose standing can even be more precarious than that of staffers.

“It felt like a fantasy for me,” she said. “But you walk in, and all of a sudden you are working all the long hours, you are having a really hard time getting compensated for overtime, you feel like your job could disappear at any given moment, and you see that everyone around you is constantly burned out. Even ‘dream jobs’ — in the end — are  still just jobs.”

Avalle continued, “It was hard getting by in New York City during COVID with a starting salary of $50,000, which did bump upwards when one other Condé Nast union got a raise in the minimum salary. So, that got me a raise, as did the wins they got on disability and parental leave — that all got applied to all of us.”

Those wins have re-enforced the collective cohesion that’s at the heart of the Condé Nast organizing drive. “If you are going to disrespect one member or one group of this union — what we are built on — you are, therefore, disrespecting everybody,” Avalle added. 

Susan DeCarava is the president of New York City’s News Guild CWA. 

“I think we are really disappointed by the company’s basic position which has been not as a good faith partner, but a bad faith bargainer,” she told Work-Bites on the picket line. “I am not in their heads, but all I can tell you what I see going on is the only people that always seem to escape layoffs and precarity, as well as job cuts and pay cuts — are the people in the C-Suites. This is not about a company that’s not making money. It’s not about a company that doesn’t have storied brands…this is about a company making a deliberate choice to short resources to the people that actually make the product, and instead reassign it to the pockets of the stockholders [owners] and executives.”

Before taking the helm at Condé Nast in 2019, Lynch was the CEO at Pandora Media, a streaming music service from 2017 to 2019. From 2012 to 2017 he led Sling TV Holding LLC after a three-year stint at Dish Network LLC as an executive vice president. He currently is on the board of directors of toy maker Mattel.

According to his Mattel bio, “he has extensive experience leading, innovating, and scaling consumer media and technology businesses globally, including having guided a number of companies through critical transformation periods. Through his media industry experience, Mr. Lynch has frequently worked with large content providers to create business models that embrace technological changes in distribution.”

He currently serves on the board of directors of the Partnership for New York Citywhich recruits top executives from Wall Street to advance corporate interests in public policy like J.P. Morgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon and Laurence Fink, the chairman and CEO of  Black Rock.

Source URL: https://portside.org/2024-01-27/conde-nast-bosses-wear-prada-and-workers-get-nada