Have a dispute with a publisher or client? NASW-NWU partnership can help

By Jennifer Frazer

When publishers go belly-up or refuse to pay for completed work, NASW can help. Through a recent partnership with the National Writers Union (NWU), regular NASW members who join NWU for a discounted membership rate of $150 can access NWU’s team of skilled grievance negotiators. A limited number for whom paying this fee is a hardship can access the service for free through NASW.

A headshot of Alla Katsnelson

Alla Katsnelson

NASW member Alla Katsnelson joined NWU in response to a bout of non-payment by Nautilus magazine in 2017. Indeed, the current NASW-NWU partnership grew out of the handling of this mass grievance, which ultimately included eight NASW members in a class of more than 20 writers. She discusses her experience below.

What happened with Nautilus that triggered the grievance process? Back in 2017, Nautilus had a long list of writers that it had failed to pay for their work. My own history there was that I’d written a piece for the magazine that ran in April 2017. I invoiced for the piece and was paid half of the amount in early July. The publisher, John Steele, kept telling me the rest was coming soon—I emailed him every week or two—but it never did. This didn’t surprise me because I’d heard the non-payment rumors even by the time my story ran in the spring. In early October, a New York-based writer named Jessica Seigel gathered a group of unpaid Nautilus writers together in a Facebook group, and folks began to come out of the woodwork. We pulled together 19 writers, collectively owed close to $60k—and we were not the only ones owed.

What prompted you to seek help from NWU? The options were everybody individually filing in New York City small claims court, all of us jointly hiring a lawyer, or all joining NWU and seeking help from the union. We decided through the Facebook community to go the latter route because we felt it would allow us to take a stand together and would send a wider message about exploiting writers. There were a few issues to resolve; for example, some writers, who were owed less than $1,000, didn’t feel it made financial sense to join NWU because the fees would eat up a significant percentage of money they got back through the collective action. Jessica chatted with Larry Goldbetter, NWU’s president, who worked with us on this, and negotiated a reduced or waived membership fee for people owed less than $800 to be represented by NWU. Those of us who were owed more joined as NWU members.

What did NWU do on your behalf, and how did it turn out? Larry launched and ran the grievance process and served as our representative. He negotiated directly with John Steele. He met with him and pushed for a written agreement on a payment plan for all the outstanding invoices and followed up with all parties regularly to ensure we were getting the checks. Larry also used the NWU platform to host a press release and open letter jointly written by the group detailing the extent of Nautilus's bad behavior. The writers also coordinated a timed tweet-blitz, and the New York Daily News and Undark Magazine covered the story. As far as I know, everyone in the grievance got paid in the end.

Why do you think NASW members should take advantage of this partnership with NWU? I think the partnership is a great offering for NASW members. NASW is fabulous, and we really appreciated that the organization supported our efforts by writing to Nautilus and posting a public letter in our support, but because of legal concerns, NASW was not able to help more directly. But these kinds of disputes are NWU’s bread and butter—they exist as a platform for writers to engage in collective action. The agreement with NWU gives NASW members access to some really helpful services and tools—among them managing contract issues and payment disputes like ours. It would be great if this sort of stuff never happened, but since it does, joining NWU offers some level of insurance that if it does, we can get it resolved fairly.

For more information about joining NWU, NASW members can view our member discounts page.

In addition, the agreement allows 25 NASW members to access NWU’s grievance and contract negotiation services for free on a first-come, first-served basis. This is designed for members who have a documented grievance, contract dispute, or tricky contract negotiation with a client but cannot afford the discounted NWU membership. So far this year, nearly three dozen NASW members have taken advantage of this partnership through both methods.

If you have a grievance, email grievance@nasw.org with a brief description and a member of NASW's grievance subcommittee will contact you regarding your eligibility.

Jennifer Frazer is a freelance science writer based in Colorado.

Jul. 17, 2019

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