Wintour of their Discontent: Conde Nast Union Stages One-Day Walkout, Pickets WTC HQ

The union is claiming the private company owned by the Newhouse family is engaging in unfair labor practices as the glitzy publisher of The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Vogue and GQ is cutting staff as it wrestles with the changing media landscape. Workers manned a picket outside company HQ at 1 World Trade Center.

| 29 Jan 2024 | 02:31

Approximately 400 members of Condé Nast Union staged a one-day strike—the first ever in the company’s history— to protest against both the storied publisher’s planned layoffs and what union leaders assert has been Conde’s less than honest negotiations with union.

The publications represented by Condé Union included GQ, Vanity Fair, Bon Appetit, Architectural Digest, Vogue, Allure, Glamour, Epicurious, Self, Condé Nast Traveler, Them, and Teen Vogue. Their presence outside respective offices were preceded by online calls for a 24-hour digital boycott of the titles’ respective websites: “no clicks, likes, reshares.”

The walkout capped weeks of tension since the company announced on Nov. 1 that it would be laying off five percent of its work force. According to the Union, Conde Nast subsequently revised that plan to one that involved cutting 94 union jobs—which is about 20 percent of the Condé union—and offering the same severance package to union members as other company staffers.

Following a union counter-proposal, Condé allegedy offered a worse deal, after which the News Guild of New York—the parent organization of Condé Union—filed a “regressive bargaining” charge against the company with the National Labor Relations Board. Said News Guild president Susan DeCarava, “Media workers at Condé Nast are key to the company’s success and reputation for excellence. They deserve for their work to be respected on the job and at the bargaining table.”

Condé Nast has not publicly responded to the Union’s charges

In contrast, the protest was a very public event though exactly what publics they were appealing to remains an open question. For sure, their fellow media workers noticed, with sympathetic articles appearing on, among others, CNN, the Washington Post, Women’s Wear Daily, Variety and the Hollywood Reporter. The last was especially important, as the Condé walkout was specifically timed to coincide with the announcement of the Oscars—a major news event for some of its titles.

Reflecting this, the Condé walk-out mimicked celebrity culture tropes of a red carpet and a “step and repeat” photo area, with a background consisting of a white sheet covered in black, white and red Condé Union stickers.

Among the pickets carried by the marcher were signs reading: “First Conde Strike–Not A Day Too Soon”; “Dream Jobs Are Still Jobs”; “Epicurious Layoffs=Recipe For Disaster”; “Jobs 4 Employees? Groundbreaking”; “Layoffs Are Out Of Fashion”; “Gird Your Loins”; and “Now Is The Wintour Of Our Discontent”– the last referring to Anna Wintour, the legendary Vogue editor who is now Condé’s Chief Content Officer.

Other anti-Wintour signs included “The Devil Wears Sunglasses When She Lays You Off”—this last referring to Wintour’s announcement the previous week that Pitchfork, the music criticism and news site Condé purchased from its founder, Ryan Schreiber, in 2015, was being moved under the internal direction of GQ. Among those ouster was Puja Patel, Pitchfork’s editor since 2018. Pitchfork as a brand also promotes popular multi-day music festivals in Chicago, Paris London and, for the first time in 2024, Mexico City

While this move was lamented by fans of Pitchfork’s music reviews in particular, long-time readers of the frequently schizophrenic site were hardly surprised, as its attempts to balance a heritage of music criticism—especially that of independent label artists— with news of pop acts who already dominate the media landscape was often awkward at best.

Blaming a legendary “villain” like Wintour for Pitchfork’s failure to perform to Condé’s standards might be cathartic but it’s also one-sided, and obscures the fact that, if editorial independence were such a valued commodity, Ryan Schreiber never would have sold the company to begin with.

It’s nothing new or any way revelatory but if you take Condé money, you play by Condé rules. The business people, for the most part, know what they’re doing. That’s why they’re still a publishing company and Time Inc., for example, isn’t, and also why their checks don’t bounce.

On the picket line, not far from the inflatable rat that accompanies most union pickets, could be heard the sound of running water, not from the light rain that fell that day but from the 9/11 Memorial just steps to the south. It’s difficult to get upset about anything Oscars-related when one sees the flags and flowers inserted into the names inscribed along the Memorial’s “Reflecting Absence” pools.

This is not the union’s fault, of course, and if they still worked at 4 Times Square, the former Condé Nast building and one which did reflect the last gasps of glamour in New York publishing, it wouldn’t be an issue.

Still, being at Ground Zero, one can’t help but question one’s purpose in life—a sentiment that Condé management would do well to consider too. Oscars-announcement day, really?