The New York Times has spent months trying to coax its workforce back to the office, and after several deadline delays and protests, they have now requested staffers return to the building for part of the week. The paper did not mandate a particular number of days, though a staffer told the New York Post “they really do ‘expect’ you to be back in the office three days a week.”
The ask did not go over well with the Times union, part of the NewsGuild of New York, which has been without a contract for nearly 18 months. On Monday, staffers from the union pledged en masse to work from home to renew focus on their contractual demands, including pay raises to keep pace with inflation.
In an attempt to sweeten the prospect of returning to the office, the paper unveiled a new, non-raise perk: custom lunchboxes embossed with the Times logo. “Our hope,” the paper’s management wrote in an announcement reviewed by the Daily Beast, “is they will be a connection point that brings together all of our colleagues around a common theme: lunchtime.”
These are fairly chic, as lunchboxes go, though they don’t hit quite the same as, say, making your rent. But just how good are they? And specifically, how much did they cost? We reached out to the Times and NewsGuild with some lunch-box-related questions, but the union did not immediately respond, and the Times declined to comment on the cost, quantity, or model of their lunch boxes.
But from some forensic Googling, it seems the Times chose a model similar or identical to the “Osaka Bento Lunch Box,” which is available on SilkLetter.com in a black or white design. For copyright reasons, we can’t embed the pictures here, but the two look nearly identical — light wood grain, gray strap, soft corners, cream divider, etc.
The Times has 4,700 employees, according to their website. So assuming they bought one for each employee, SilkLetter’s quote calculator estimates that an order of Osaka Bento Lunch Boxes would clock in at $73,803 before taxes. On the plus side, the site is currently running a promotion that gets you $50 off of orders exceeding $500, with the checkout code “50BACK.” So we’re down to $73,753.
It’s possible that the Times bought the boxes only for New York-based employees. But a Times spokesperson did not respond to our question about the number of New York-based workers employed by the paper. Another option: the Times Guild has approximately 1,300 members, per their Twitter, and the Wirecutter union had 65 members, as of December. The Tech Guild does not list their membership count online, but they did disclose the number of ballots submitted in their union drive vote. That would be 492 ballots. That took place in March of this year, so if the membership hasn’t changed since, that puts union membership across the three units at 1,857.
How much would 1,857 Osaka Bento Lunch Boxes cost? SilkLetter’s quote estimator says $29,196.33 (or $29,146.33 with promo code “50BACK”).
The lunch boxes are the latest effort from the Times to get staffers back in the office. According to Bloomberg, the paper last set a return-to-office deadline for June, but pushed it back after employees protested the move on social media. Remote work is just one of the issues under discussion in collective bargaining, which has been underway since 2020 and continued after their last contract expired in the spring of 2021. Times union members who have spoken publicly about the negotiations have highlighted a two-year freeze on raises amid record-inflation, and union-busting tactics from management.
A Times spokesman did send a statement outlining their proposal for “contractual increases of 10 percent over the remaining two and a half years of the new contract,” adding that the offer was “significantly higher than in recent Times Guild contracts.” They also maintained that the return-to-office request was designed to be “a gradual and flexible return to office approach” with no mandatory number of days, to provide “all employees with the time and space needed to adjust.”
The stay-home pledge came from at least 860 members of the paper’s NewsGuild union, according to one staffer — almost two-thirds of the 1,300-person shop — as well as members of the Times Tech Guild and the Wirecutter Union. According to the Daily Beast, the pledge coincided with “hundreds” of “emotional letters,” sent by employees to Times top brass, including “A.G. Sulzberger, executive editor Joe Kahn, CEO Meredith Kopit Levien and opinion editor Kathleen Kingsbury.” They came from at least 330 staffers, many of whom earn far less than the paper’s highest-profile reporters; one staffer wrote that they "had to start doing DoorDash deliveries to make ends meet."
One such letter, obtained by the Beast, detailed how reporter Emily Steel, who won a Pulitzer Prize, saw the value of her salary plummet due to inflation. “When I started at the Times in 2014, my salary was $128,000,” Steel wrote. “Since then, I’ve negotiated for two merit-based raises. Yet, adjusted for inflation, my salary now is worth about the same as it was when I started in 2014.”
Since contract negotiations kicked off in 2020, Steel continued, her salary is worth “more than $17,000 less” — or roughly one quarter of the cost of 4,700 screen-printed Osaka Bento Lunch Boxes.