The Traitors at the New York Times
Peter Baker and Michael Shear scabbed during a staff walkout. There is no more vile betrayal than that.
Today, over 1,100 workers at the New York Times went on strike for 24 hours. The walkout—the first of its kind at the paper in four decades—is happening largely because ordinary Times workers are underpaid, and because Times management is offering paltry salary increases even as the New York Times Company makes tidy profits and pays its executives millions.
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Over 1,000 people don’t make a collective decision to walk off the job lightly, even for one day. When you’re bargaining a contract, you wind up talking a lot about “the escalation ladder”—the ever-bolder steps you are prepared to take if management isn’t playing ball. Walking out is almost always at or near the very top of that ladder. It’s never your first move. There are lots of smaller steps that come first. Nobody goes into bargaining expecting that they’ll have to strike. It’s a brave, high-stakes decision, a deliberate provocation, and it doesn’t happen unless workers truly feel like they are out of options.
That is why, when workers do decide to strike, it’s so important to support them and to honor their demands—no matter whether they’re working in a factory or at a citadel of the elite like the New York Times. (White collar workers are exploited too, and any attempt to say otherwise is a form of manipulative class warfare that you should not indulge in.) The demands made by the Times staffers were simple: if you’re in the union, don’t work on Thursday, and if you’re not, don’t engage with any Times content, in print or online, for the whole day. (If you did the Wordle today, sorry, but you crossed a picket line.)
It’s not an indefinite strike—it’s a one-day show of force, and the more people who participate, the more likely it is that the workers can succeed, which benefits everybody. This is not, on the whole, too much to ask.
The grim flip-side to supporting a strike is, of course, scabbing. If standing with your fellow employees is one of the noblest things a person can do, then scabbing is one of the most disgusting—a sign that your moral and ethical compass is rotted to the core, that your solidarity only stretches as far as your own personal self-interest. It is a signal to your colleagues that you are not to be trusted, that you will sell them out, and that you are willing to undermine their struggle for rights and dignity. It is the choice that a traitor makes.
This brings me to Peter Baker and Michael Shear, two White House correspondents for the Times. As Semafor’s Max Tani reported on Thursday, Baker and Shear informed their co-workers that they would not participate in the walkout. They then proceeded to file their copy as if it was any other day at the paper. In other words, they scabbed. They spit in their colleagues’ faces. They sided with management against their own union. They weakened the union’s leverage against the Times’ bosses.
Baker is well-known for adhering so scrupulously to dumb notions of objectivity that he refuses to vote in elections, lest it color his sainted political neutrality. Apparently, though, crossing a picket line doesn’t feel like an ideological stance to him. Funny how that works.
Baker and Shear occupy some of the loftiest perches at the Times. I don’t know what their salary is, but it’s a safe bet that they don’t belong to the group of Times staffers making under $50,000. (Shear infamously signed a letter opposing the removal of a cap on union dues for employees making more than $140,000 a year, so no prizes for guessing what he brings in.) They would have lost nothing by honoring the walkout, and they would have sent a message that, even though the wage fight was not primarily about their well-being, they cared enough about the people whose labor supports their work to stand alongside them for a mere 24 hours.
Instead, Baker and Shear scabbed.
There are no epithets strong enough to describe how reprehensible it is to do what Baker and Shear did today. It was an act of deliberate malice against their co-workers, most of whom surely have less power at the Times than they do. I fervently hope that Times staffers win their fight, and get the wages they deserve. And I fervently hope that Baker and Shear’s vile behavior is never forgotten. Scabbing is the ultimate betrayal. It is a mark of eternal shame, and they will wear it forever.