NEW YORK, November 30, 2020.
On Wednesday, November 25, the workers of Verso Books won voluntary recognition from management to join The Washington-Baltimore NewsGuild (WBNG), a unit of the NewsGuild and the Communications Workers of America. A petition for election was filed simultaneously with the initial request for recognition on November 16. In the coming weeks, they will begin contract negotiations.
Julia Judge, Senior Publicist at Verso, said: “The decision to unionize felt especially urgent now, as our staff both grows significantly in size and grows more remote. We’re excited to join our colleagues who have already begun organizing across the industry and hope that fellow book workers continue pushing for more dignified labor conditions in their own workplaces.”
Through organizing over the years, the staff has won a number of policies aimed at increasing transparency in the workplace, including but not limited to the role of shop stewards, a staff guide, democratic decision-making, salary banding, and more. They note that representation is meant to strengthen these policies by formalizing them and moving towards greater power in the workplace.
Operating remotely since the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered offices in March, Verso employees recognized the necessity of maintaining close communication with one another and protecting autonomous input into their working conditions amidst widespread uncertainty and precarity. Following on the heels of several publisher workplace actions in solidarity with Black Lives Matter this summer, as well as an industry-wide reckoning with issues ranging from race, class, and gender to ability and entry-level compensation, the staff remarked that its decision to unionize was also an act of solidarity with fellow workers in media, publishing, and bookselling, as well as in the broader labor movement.
Ben Mabie, editor and current shop steward at Verso, said: “For fifty years Verso Books has been a leading tribune for emancipatory politics. In taking this decision to unionize, our staff looks to join this storied history, marrying radical publishing with organizing and real solidarity with the wider labor movement. The Communications Workers of America and the NewsGuild have done particularly dedicated work in bringing some power and democracy to workers in the media and telecommunications, so we’re especially glad to throw in our lot with them.”
The campaign acts in solidarity with a concurrent unionization effort by the workers of Verso’s UK office. Verso is represented by the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) in London.