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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Absolutely terrified of unions

"A kind of insurance policy against organizing."

While the culture of Condé Nast (the stable of Newhouse glitz and glitter magazines) naturally bred a never-to-worry-about-money attitude, there was a reason beyond style or tradition for perks that included an unlimited flow of petty cash in the form of advances against expenses that the employee might or might not actually accrue.

There had been, off and on, attempts by the Newspaper Guild to organize a union at Condé Nast. Picketers had even congregated outside the Condé Nast building. A year or so after her arrival in 1980 as an editor of Glamour, Kim Bonnell was summoned to a meeting. Gathered in the room were Si Newhouse, the managing editor of Glamour, a couple of "corporate types," and a lawyer or two.

"I was really baffled as to why I was asked to this meeting, Bonnell recalls, "but it turned out that it was about unions, and I had come from the [New York] Daily News where I was a member of the union. And I heard ... that Si was absolutely terrified and concerned that the union would try to come into Condé Nast and they thought that I might be organizing."

One of the men, not Si, questioned her about the guild and whether she was still a member. It may have been naive of her, she says in retrospect, but she didn't feel particularly intimidated, and she heard no more on the subject of unions, from Newhouse or his lawyers or anyone else.

Si really had little to worry about, Bonnell adds, because her colleagues "had no sympathy for the union, even though they were getting terrible salaries and terrible benefits and no one cared because their parents were supporting them anyway."

Still, Si wasn't going to take any chances, and it was after this union scare, Bonnell adds, that the company upgraded its salaries and benefits to bring them in line with those given to newspaper reporters. The perks continued, both as a matter of style and as a kind of insurance policy against organizing.

(© Carol Felsenthal, "Citizen Newhouse", p.169-170)

Part 2 in a series, "Newhouses and labor unions"

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