New York has a mordantly funny piece about the effort by staffers at Harper's to unionize. The saga begins with gross mismanagement by owner Rick MacArthur, spurring the staff to organize. Then the left-wing MacArthur started to act a lot like a union-crushing boss:
MacArthur contested the staff's right to unionize. Staffers couldn’t help but chuckle at the irony: The staunch defender of unions, who in a 2009 Harper's piece called the UAW “the country’s best and traditionally most honest mass labor organization,” was now on the other side of the table as the "worst kind of factory owner," as one staffer put it to me.
MacArthur hired veteran employment lawyer Bert Pogrebin, who had previously faced off against the Village Voice union, to negotiate on his behalf. In August, the matter was taken up by the National Labor Relations Board. Pogrebin tried to get many of Harper’s' editors, including Metcalf and senior editors Donovon Hohn and Chris Cox, excluded from the union on the grounds that were in management positions. In September, the NLRB ruled that Metcalf and the others could join the union. In October, the NLRB denied MacArthur’s appeal, and the union went ahead with plans to hold elections that would certify the union. Staffers put up signs around the office and a ballot box was placed in the conference room.
On October 13, the day before elections were scheduled, MacArthur sent a letter to the staff lobbying employees to vote against the union. “I confess that I remain confused about the goal of the people seeking union representation,” he wrote, “but I have to assume it has something to do with my firing of Roger, objections to my promoting Ellen over Ben, and general insecurity about the future of the magazine.” MacArthur wrote that forming a union “will not, as some have requested, give any of you a great voice in the selection of the next editor,” and added, “Certainly, the union will not be able to solve the financial problems of the magazine or get us more subscribers, newsstand buyers or advertisers. It will, of course, be able to collect initiation fees and dues from you.”