Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Harper's magazine union drive burns up the man who writes the cheques

[This has been reposted due to formatting errors]
I've just caught up with a New York magazine article about the conflict at Harper's magazine between the (now) unionized staff and the publisher, Rick MacArthur. For many years, the venerable liberal magazine has depended on MacArthur's chequebook each year to balance the accounts and he seemed glad to do so.
The magazine had for many years been a reliable bellwether of liberal causes and channeler of the attitudes of the east coast liberal elite.
But in an ironic twist, MacArthur, who was a vocal champion of collective bargaining in general, is now struggling with the particulars of the imposition of a union in his shop. His staff signed up with the United Auto Workers local 1110 in October. And MacArthur is not happy about it.
The crisis, if it can be characterized that way, began a year ago when MacArthur fell out with longtime friend and the magazine's editor-in-chief Roger Hodge.
The staff became alarmed with the appointment of Ellen Rosenbush, the longtime managing editor, as acting editor -- a move they felt put in more pliant editor in charge (Rosenbush edited MacArthur's book You Can't Be President...and his monthly column in the Providence Journal). subsequently posted on Harper's' website, that bashed the Internet. "I never found e-mail exciting," he wrote. "My skepticism stemmed from the suspicion that the World Wide Web wasn't, in essence, much more than a gigantic, unthinking Xerox machine ...)
He tried to talk the staff out of following through on their union drive, saying that editors were management, but after the fact said, in a statement to New York:
“Employees have a right to unionize and I feel neutral towards the union,” MacArthur told me in a statement. “They haven't interfered with the measures we've taken to improve the magazine, and my relationship with them is cordial.”
Now, alarm is spreading as MacArthur is trying to lay off a number of staff, including Harper’s' literary editor, Ben Metcalf, who played a key role in the union drive. Pure retaliation, says the union. Stay tuned.


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