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Vogue, Bon Appétit and other Condé Nast staffers form union

‘It comes down to prestige doesn’t pay the bills,' said one Vanity Fair staffer.

The Condé Nast logo outside its headquarters at Freedom Tower in New York. (Lev Radin/SIPA USA/AP) (Photographer Lev Radin/Sipa USA via AP)
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For years, employees at Condé Nast — the publisher of glossy titles such as Vogue, Vanity Fair and GQ — have been trading notes with one another about their increasing workloads and what they discovered to be differing salaries.

On Tuesday, these conversations culminated in a letter to Condé managers signed by more than 350 employees requesting the company voluntarily recognize their union, which would organize under the NewsGuild of New York.

The union would cover more than 500 editorial, production and video workers across 11 publications, including Bon Appétit, Architectural Digest and Allure. Those leading the effort say nearly 80 percent of eligible workers have indicated support.

In an emailed statement a few hours after the letter was delivered, Condé spokesman Patrick Maks said the company plans “to have productive and thoughtful conversations with [the unionizing workers] over the coming weeks to learn more.”

They are modeling their effort after a successful unionization campaign at one of Condé's most prestigious titles, the New Yorker, which waged a high-profile campaign for a contract that included protests, celebrity endorsers and a strike threat.

In that case, New Yorker union members argued that the magazine’s elite reputation contrasted with the reality of rank-and-file employees earning as little as $42,000 a year. The two sides eventually agreed to a contract that would raise the salary minimum to $60,000 by 2023; Condé said at the time the agreement reflected standards they had already been working to establish companywide.

The very public campaign helped underscore a message that aggrieved employees have been trying to get across: that the stereotype of the well-paid fashion magazine staffer who moves around Manhattan in a Town Car is a mirage, a thing of the past.

“It comes down to prestige doesn’t pay the bills,” said Vanity Fair Web producer Jaime Archer, echoing the New Yorker Union rallying cry. “We love working here, and we want to keep working here. … If Condé wants to attract the best talent in the business, they have to stop relying on prestige and provide equitable pay and benefits.”

Several described a workplace where some employees are saddled with additional work as their colleagues leave because of burnout or the cost of living in New York. One employee said those in the company’s fashion network — who do both the logistics- and labor-intensive work of putting together fashion shoots — have been taking on more work following layoffs and consolidation.

Christina Chaey, a senior food editor with Bon Appétit, said that the notion of needing to “pay dues” to work at an elite media house, in the form of long hours with meager pay, is outdated.

She referenced the fictional “The Devil Wears Prada,” written by a former Vogue assistant. “The era of ‘a million girls would kill for that job’ is quickly coming to a close. And all for the better.”

A coveted spot at Condé is still considered a dream job to land, said Nico Avalle, a digital operations associate for Bon Appétit. “But after a while the dream does wear off. Dream jobs, it turns out, are just jobs.” She argued that a union would allow people to feel more ownership of their work and secure better pay and benefits.

Condé’s union movement had a catalyst in a period of upheaval two years ago that pushed many internal problems into the open.

In summer 2020, Bon Appétit’s top editor resigned and several video stars of color left amid allegations of racism; Anna Wintour, longtime chief editor of Vogue, issued a mea culpa for publishing “hurtful or intolerant” content and not doing enough to elevate Black contributors. Months later, the hiring and firing of a new Teen Vogue editor, a young Black female journalist, turned into a public debacle.

Inside the Teen Vogue mess — which is really a Condé Nast mess

The company has pledged to do better, releasing a “Condé Code” that declared “exceptional does not mean exclusive” and a diversity report that showed close to 40 percent of those hired in 2020 were people of color.

Like much of the publishing industry, Condé has seen its advertising revenue fall off a cliff in the digital era. It folded some titles or turned them Web-only and went years without posting a profit. In 2020, it laid off 100 employees, instituted furloughs and cut pay, including for executives.

But Condé reportedly turned a profit in 2021, with $2 billion in revenue, amid a global restructuring of its business. The company boasted a 14 percent increase in subscriptions, and CEO Roger Lynch told the Wall Street Journal they increased its global workforce by 3 percent.

Those unionizing say they are looking for salary transparency, more generous raises and bolstered job security for longtime subcontracted employees. Another goal is to create a diversity committee to review salary and hiring data, and guaranteeing that at least half of job candidates come from underrepresented groups.

“We publish pieces every day about how women can advocate for themselves, and how mothers need to be treated well, and pay discrepancies in the workplace,” said Glamour staff writer Jenny Singer. “There’s nothing more important than Condé practicing what it preaches in its pages.”

In recent years, unions have formed at Hearst Magazines, publisher of Cosmopolitan and Esquire, and Meredith, which publishes Entertainment Weekly and Martha Stewart Living.

It’s not always a swift process, and some media companies have resisted. The New York Times forced its tech workers to take a formal vote with the National Labor Relations Board. They approved it 404 to 88.

The New Yorker campaign got contentious, with a protest outside the home of Wintour, who had been promoted to oversee global content (the New Yorker was not in her purview). But Condé voluntarily recognized unions at four of its properties — the New Yorker, Ars Technica, Pitchfork and Wired — and those involved in this latest campaign said they are hopeful the company will do the same with the broader Condé union, rather than forcing an NLRB vote.

“To drag this process out is only going to do more harm to the relationship between workers and management at Condé,” said Nastaran Mohit, organizing director of the NewsGuild of New York. “The sooner they voluntarily recognize, the sooner we can get to the bargaining table and negotiate a contract.”