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Boston Globe Workers Appeal to Gloria Steinem in Labor Dispute

"It's an opportunity to highlight the importance of worker's rights as a feminist issue."

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Today a group of journalists working for the Boston Globe and its affiliates are protesting the appearance of Linda Pizzuti Henry, the paper’s CEO and the wife of publisher John Henry, on a local radio panel celebrating women in the news. In an open letter to Gloria Steinem, who will deliver the panel’s opening remarks, the Boston Newspaper Guild asked the feminist activist and labor organizer to “stand in solidarity” with the union in its nearly three-year dispute with their billionaire owner. “When we learned more about the event, we found it was called “Trailblazers: Women News Leaders From Katharine Graham to Today,” says Julia Taliesin, a staff writer for Boston.com. “And we felt like it was an opportunity to highlight the importance of worker’s rights as a feminist issue.”

The event comes towards the third year of difficult negotiations between the guild and its owners, and seven years after the investment manager John Henry purchased the paper. Henry, an investment manager with an estimated $3.6 billion net worth who also owns the Boston Red Sox, purchased the Globe in 2013 and shortly pushed out a number of high-profile executives, citing the paper’s “waste and exorbitant costs.” Last year, his wife Linda was promoted to head Boston Globe Media Partners, which also includes the healthcare publication STAT News and Boston.com. As the local outlet GBH News noted at the time, “it has become increasingly clear over the past few years that [Henry] and her husband ... were determined to impose their will on the media properties they own.”

That will includes, apparently, a standoff with the union that represents 300-odd employees across Henry’s publications as well as the retention of the Jones Day law firm during a long and grueling contract dispute. The firm is best known for representing former president Donald Trump’s campaign, as well as working with the Republican Party in litigation over mail-in votes during the 2020 election. As the union noted at the time, “given the Globe’s wide-ranging coverage of election-related news, we believe readers have a right to be aware of the relationship” as well as the “hundreds of thousands” of dollars it alleges have been spent to erode worker protections. The paper’s leadership has said it has retained the firm since 2014 and that the relationship presents no conflict of interest.

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Through the summer, Globe workers have said the company is attempting to enshrine language that would make it easy to outsource their jobs and has tried to impose unnecessary control over the editorial process. “We want for journalists who write for the Boston Globe and Boston.com to be Boston writers,” says Arianna MacNeill, a guild member and staff writer at Boston.com. “You craft sources, you have these relationships, it’s very important for the job.” In August, the union received endorsements from a handful of elected officials including Congresswoman Katherine Clark and Senator Elizabeth Warren.

In their appeal to Steinem, the Globe union encouraged the activist to speak against the Henry’s treatment of their journalists. “As a co-founder of MS. magazine and feminist icon, you’ve been a powerful advocate for women’s empowerment, for civil rights, and for union organization,” they wrote. “We don’t need to explain to you why a fair contract is so important.” A representative for Steinem told Jezebel the activist had been in meetings all day and was unable to immediately comment.

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“We just felt like it was an opportunity to draw attention to the fact that organizing for labor rights is often literally about fighting for our lives,” says Taliesin. “And it’s important for women who are fighting for their own lives, and also the lives of their children and families.”

“We can’t underestimate the importance of the Boston Globe, a historically unionized paper, keeping a strong contract,” she adds. “If we can’t, then who can?”