Welcome to the National Writers Union

The National Writers Union UAW Local 1981 is the only labor union that represents freelance writers.

Now, more than ever, with the consolidation of power into the hands of ever-larger corporate entities and with the advent of technologies that facilitate the exploitation of a writer’s work, writers need an organization with the clout and know-how to protect our interests. One that will forge new rules for a new era.

Combining the strength of more than 1,200 members in our 13 chapters with the support of the United Automobile Workers, the NWU works to advance the economic and working conditions of all writers.  Our members also directly benefit from the many valuable services the Union offers—including grievance assistance, contract advice, and much more—while actively contributing to a growing movement of professional freelancers who have banded together to assert their collective power.

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Special Announcements

10/05/2014 - 5:12pm

Green Was the Old Black

By Calvin Ramsay

Photo courtesy of the author.

The name of Victor Hugo Green, a mailman who started his career in 1913 in Hackensack, NJ, lives on. He created both the Negro Motorist Green Book and the Negro Traveler’s Green Book because, at the time, the country’s racist Jim Crow laws hampered African-Americans. Green’s wife, the former Alma Duke of Richmond, VA, and their family often made the nearly 700-mile round trip to her hometown during their long marriage. Each time, the Greens were reminded that something needed to be done about the mistreatment of blacks on the open road.

By 1918, the Greens had moved from Hackensack to Harlem, NY, and remained there until his retirement in 1952. Throughout those years, Green continued to commute to Jersey to support his branch and his union, the National Association of Letter Carriers, which was largely white but allowed Green to join. The postman used his union connections with fellow carriers to ask for help with addresses and contacts for the Negro traveler. Once he had put together a nationwide team, he launched the Negro Motorist Green Book in 1936, which was published for three decades, until 1966 and annually included more than 80 pages of content.

The Green Book Travel Guide listed Negro hotels, restaurants, homes where travelers could stay, beauty and barbershops, as well as doctors and dentists’ offices. Restrooms and gas stations that catered to the Negro traveler were also included. Green’s dream was that one day the Green Book would not be needed because African-Americans would enjoy full accommodations on the open road. He did not live to see that day, passing away in 1960. But his daughter kept the Green Book going for six more years through the passage of the Civil Rights Bills of the middle and late sixties.

I learned about all of this history in 2001 in Atlanta, when I attended the funeral of two dear friends’ son who died in a traffic accident. The child’s grandfather, who had come down from NYC, was looking for a Green Book. It was his first time traveling to the South, and he thought it was still needed. I asked him what the Green Book was, and I became fascinated.

After that I wrote a play on the subject. It was staged in Washington, D.C. with the legendary civil rights activist Julian Bond playing Victor Green; Bond shared with me that his family always traveled with the Green Book. In the audience that night was Ernie Green of the Little Rock Nine (not sure if he’s any relation), who famously integrated an all white school in 1957 in Little Rock, AR. He told me that his family had used the Green Book, as well. Later I learned that Buck O’Neil, manager of the Kansas City Monarchs, the Negro Baseball league team for which Jackie Robinson had played, had placed a Green Book under glass at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, MO. Musician Wynton Marsalis told me that his grandfather ran an Esso gas station in New Orleans, and that he both advertised in and sold the Green Book. My children’s novel, Ruth and the Green Book, tells of an 8-year-old traveling with her mom and dad from Chicago to Selma, AL, in 1952 to see her grandmother. They endure a great number of trials—until they get a copy of the Green Book.

 —NWU member Ramsey is the author of numerous plays, musicals and books.

 


 

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10/05/2014 - 5:09pm

By Marilyn A. Gelman

In the days following a car crash injury some year ago, I thought I was entitled to certain benefits based on what I thought the auto policy said. But I was wrong. The same goes for a 2007 contract that I was thrilled to sign for the publication of an essay. The editing process was a pleasure, and I felt proud of the anthology in which the work appeared. However, years later I learned that simple words in contracts can have complex meanings.

The cause of my recent education was an invitation to be a Byliner.com backlist author. Suddenly I cared about the rights to that past work. I thought some rights had reverted to me because the contract for the piece specified five years, and seven years had passed. Besides, I thought the book had gone out of print years ago, when the publisher said copies were no longer available. Wrong and wrong.

After emailing back and forth with a NWU contract advisor, I began to look at words in contracts in a new way. I was stunned at my naiveté. There were words and phrases that should have signaled "Warning!" Instead, I overlooked them at the exciting prospect of a sale.

I do not regret signing the 2007 contract, but I do regret not fully understanding what I was signing.

Some words and phrases that will make me slow down and think twice include "exclusive," "X years after final publication," and "future media and technologies." In the future, I will inquire about a publisher’s right to license my story to third parties—especially those who use my story to support an ideology I do not espouse—and explore the possibility that there might be negotiating room.

Are there “warning” words and phrases on your list? Share them with the GCD at advice@nwu.org. And if your contract has terms that you don’t understand, ask the GCD for a review.

Image credit: Clip Art


 

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10/05/2014 - 5:04pm

Photo Credit: Laura Anglin

For her transformative impact on American literature, Ursula K. Le Guin received the 2014 National Book Award medal for distinguished contribution to American Letters. When NWU asked her about her reaction to the news, she said: “I'm honored by this medal, and delighted that the National Book Foundation is giving it to a writer best known for writing kinds of fiction often not regarded as literature.  I'll wear it with pride in the continuing campaigns against Google's attack on copyright and Amazon's attempt to censor authors and publishers who refuse to kiss the feet of Bezos.”

Q & A W/ URSULA K. LE GUIN

Le Guin, who is an NWU member, will celebrate her 85th birthday on October 21st. She lives in Portland, Oregon and, as of 2013, had published 21 novels, 11 volumes of short stories, 12 books for children, six volumes of poetry and four essay collections. Her honors and awards include the Hugo, the Nebula, a National Book Award and a PEN-Malamud. Recently we asked Ursula to answer some questions about the writing life. 

NWU) What’s your writing schedule? 

UKL) If I have something to write, I prefer to write it in the morning, in my study.  But if I have something to write, I'll write it whenever and wherever I can.

NWU) What's the best writing advice you ever got?  

UKL) “Why can’t you have kids and write books?” My best friend Jean said that to me when we were about 22.

NWU) Which of your books has proved most prescient?

UKL) "Prescient" sounds too much like fortune-telling! Several of my sf novels, such as The Word for World is Forest, The Dispossessed, and The Lathe of Heaven, show the terrible effects of overpopulation and exploitative capitalist technology on species diversity, the climate, etc., but I wasn't prescient—scientists have been warning us about all that for 50 years now, all you had to do was listen to them.  (Which a lot of us still aren't doing.)

NWU) What books are on your bed stand right now?

UKL) Shigeru Mizuki, Showa: A History of Japan (a graphic history/autobiography -- amazing!)  Mary Jacobus: Romantic Things.  Two volumes of Rilke. Philip K. Dick: The Man in the High Castle (to re-read for the nth time, so I can write an introduction for a new edition, yay!) 

NWU) To what extent do you believe science fiction should offer a social critique, or serve as a lens through which to examine contemporary issues in science and technology? 

UKL) I don't like to say that any kind of fiction, any art form, "should" do anything but be true to itself.  However, by its nature, sf offers a different perspective on contemporary life (not just science and tech), and often hints that change is desirable, and possible.

NWU) Despite decades of fine work by many female writers such as Marion Zimmer Bradley, Octavia Butler and yourself, to what extent do you think the field of science fiction is still something of a “boy’s club”?

UKL) For the people who want it to be a boys club, that's what it is.  For grown-ups, it's a lively part of contemporary literature.  These days it has no more problems with gender assumptions than the rest of literature has, but unfortunately, that's a good deal.

NWU) Why are you a National Writers Union member? 

UKL) Because writers need solidarity against exploitation as much as any other workers do, and have particular issues that take knowledge and adroitness to handle


 

 

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09/23/2014 - 9:56am

Members of the National Writers Union (NWU), a local of the United Auto Workers (UAW), joined hundreds of thousands of other people to march more than 40 blocks through New York City on Sunday to demand action on climate change. The NWU and UAW joined a huge contingent of other workers and labor unions marching as part of the much larger People’s Climate March (PCM), held on September 21.

Estimates place the number of marchers as high as 400,000. With those numbers, the march was the largest of its kind in the history of the United States, with people from across the country and the world banding together to call attention to increasingly extreme weather that has brought droughts and fires to the Western United States and spawned powerful megastorms. The science is clear: climate change is placing lives in danger; threatening livelihoods, homes, and agriculture; and promises to wipe entire islands totally off the map...and the situation may be nearing the point of no return.

More actions are happening in NY this week as the UN Summit on climate change opens. More than 80 labor unions took part and NWU marched with a very large and lively UAW delegation behind a very cool banner. Where the movement goes from here is not clear, but the issue of climate change is now front and center, no longer a fringe issue, and no longer up for debate.


 

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09/03/2014 - 5:43pm

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Larry Goldbetter, President – 212-254-0279                                                        

David Hill, Co-Chair Journalism Division – 347-749-1842

 

NWU STATEMENT ON THE DEATH OF STEVEN J. SOTLOFF

The National Writers Union joins the rest of the world in our grief and anger over the brutal murder of Steven J. Sotloff by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). He was just 31 years old. Our sadness is compounded by the fact that his death follows so closely that of fellow freelance journalist James Foley just two weeks ago. Steven, James and many others have risked their lives to work a beat that major news sources have abandoned as too dangerous.

Steven had lived in Yemen and learned Arabic there. He covered the Arab Spring, reporting for Time, The Christian Science Monitor, The National Interest, Media Line, World Affairs, and Foreign Policy, from Egypt, Turkey, Libya, and Bahrain. He was abducted in Syria on August 4, 2013.

At least 20 journalists are still missing in Syria, where the three-year old civil war has taken the lives of more than 191,000 and created more than 3 million refugees. Thirteen Palestinian journalists were killed and more than three dozen wounded in the recent Israeli assault on Gaza. Last month, Russian journalist Andrei Stenin became the seventh journalist murdered in Ukraine, his car recently recovered on a road close to Donetsk. The vehicle was burned and riddled with bullet holes. Like Foley and Sotloff, these journalists were all targeted for execution.

The world is an ever more dangerous place. As we write this, war rages in Afghanistan, the Middle East, Ukraine and across Africa. US drone strikes occur regularly in Yemen, Pakistan, and now Somalia. And US troop levels in Iraq will soon once again top 1,100. The shocking videos of the Foley and Sotloff murders may not be what a previous administration had in mind when they launched their “Shock and Awe” invasion of Iraq. But it is what we have reaped, and there is no end in sight.

RIP Steven J. Sotloff. And to those in the field, be strong, be brave and be safe.

 


 

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08/28/2014 - 4:01pm


 

I was told today at my temp job with the National Probation Service in Swansea, Wales, that being a writer was "undesirable" when working with confidential files, even though I had previously been an employee of the organization. This is the same place that celebrates its famous writer, Dylan Thomas with events, festivals and statues. I have also worked at the Police, the DWP, (Department of Work and Pensions) the DVLA (Driver's Licensing Department) and had security clearance, and worked at the National Health Service.

I was told by the temp agency the "senior management" had found out I was a "writer" and I was dismissed because of it. It didn't even matter what sort of writing you did, health and beauty, yoga and fiction equals some major investigation of their practices and divulging confidential information in their minds.

I have contacted NAPO (trade union for Probation and Family Court Staff) to make them aware that being a writer was a dismissible offence. Obviously some one who I was working with went and told the "senior management" I was a writer to get me let go, not a happy thought. Temp jobs are days, weeks and months at best. Most people would want more continuity in their lives than that brief encounter and being a writer is a life-long occupation. I wonder how many other writers have been discriminated against for having a long-term job as a writer.

I would welcome hearing anybody else's experience of discrimination for being a writer.

Sincerely,

Cara E. Moore

 


 

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08/20/2014 - 10:03pm

 

We grieve the loss of James Foley and send our condolences to his friends, colleagues and family. At 40 years old, James Foley was still in the early stages of what would surely be a long and successful career as a journalist, yet already he had accomplished far more than most journalists do in a lifetime. His work had taken him into the heart of conflicts around the world. He was no stranger to hostile and dangerous environments.

In fact, his capture in 2012 wasn't even his first. He had already spent 44 days in a Libyan jail in 2011 while covering the civil war there. During his capture he witnessed another journalist, South African Anton Hammerl, killed in the firefight. Despite the risks, Foley still traveled to Syria in 2012 to cover the conflict there. His commitment to bearing witness and reporting what he saw to the world was admirable.

Every journalist should look to his example and the example of others who risk their very lives to bring the world the truth. It is worth noting that James Foley was, like many of the journalists currently covering the conflict in Syria, a freelance journalist. He was not a staffer with the backup of a large well-funded media company. And other freelancers covering Syria have faced similar dangers since most of the media pulled their staffers out in 2012. Austin Tice went missing in August of 2012 after sneaking into Syria with the intention of finding work as a freelance reporter to cover the conflict. He tweeted from Syria "If someone wanted to hire me that'd be great. Student loans don't pay themselves."

At least 20 journalists have gone missing in Syria since the civil war began in 2011. At least 39 journalists are missing worldwide. This is a moment for us to celebrate the life and work of James Foley, but also a moment to reflect on the risks that brave and admirable men and women just like him take around the world for very little money and often very little recognition. Without their bravery in the face of war, despotism and chaos, history would truly be written by the victors. May those who have not been found come home safely, and may those yet to go into the scene of the battle be protected, cared for, and celebrated.

 


 

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08/11/2014 - 10:03am

Plans are proceeding for a massive People’s Climate March at the UN on Sunday, September 21. NWU is one of dozens of unions that have endorsed the march, and organizers are planning a Labor Weekend here to help turn out 20,000 union members. Our point person is NY member Abby Scher, and we are asking our members to get on PCM busses and join us from Boston to Washington, DC. For more info, contact Abby at abbyscher@mindspring.com

 

(Photo: NWU members and the UAW contingent at the PCM Labor Press Conference held in Times Square on July 30.)

 


 

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08/11/2014 - 9:44am


On July 22, NWU joined the Science Fiction Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and the Graphic Artists Guild (GAG) in signing onto an amicus brief on behalf of the families of Superman’s co-creators, Siegel and Shuster, and the children of artist Jack Kirby, who are petitioning to have their appeals of two Circuit Court decisions heard by the US Supreme Court. 

In the first case, Siegel and Shuster signed away all rights to Superman for $130 in 1938. In 1997 and 2002, respectively, their heirs attempted to exercise their right to recover the original copyrights by serving statutory notices of terminations on DC Comics and its parent, Warner Bros.

In DC Comics v. Pacific Pictures Corp., the Ninth Circuit stripped the Shuster estate of its termination rights, making it much easier for large media companies to eliminate, settle or completely circumvent termination rights. This ignores the Supreme Court’s opinion in NY Times v Tasini, (2001) that the termination right is “inalienable.” This decision essentially guts the termination right and hurts authors and artists everywhere. 

In the other case, the children of Jack Kirby sent notices of termination to Marvel to regain ownership of Kirby's share of the copyrights, in accordance with their rights under the Copyright Act. Marvel claimed that Kirby was an independent contractor and that his work fell under the "work for hire" exception. 

The case went before the 2nd Circuit, which has a 40-year record of erroneously determining the work of independent contractors to be "for hire," disenfranchising hardworking authors and their families of valuable property that is rightfully theirs.

According to attorney Hilary Hodson, “On May 14, 2014, the Supreme Court asked Marvel to file a response to our cert petition, meaning they are considering granting cert. If cert is granted, our chances of prevailing are high. A win would have broad implications -- all pre-1978 works by an independent contractor, or non-traditional employee, would no longer be ‘work for hire.’"

 


 

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08/03/2014 - 9:45pm

President
NWU/UAW Local 1981
256 W. 38th St. Suite 703 New York, NY 10018
3 August 2014
 
Dear Larry,
 
I write on behalf of the International Federation of Journalists to thank you and your union for standing up with the global community of journalists in solidarity with our Palestinian colleagues in Gaza. This morning, I have just been notified by our Palestinian union, the PJS, of the latest grim toll of journalists killed yesterday which now brings the total of journalists killed in the last three weeks to 12 and over 35 injured. As you know, the IFJ deals almost on a daily basis with cases of journalists attacked all over the world just for doing their job. The tragedy of Gazan journalists is that they are not just caught in crossfire or indiscriminate shelling but they are also wilfully targeted.
 
According to the PJS, media offices have been regularly targeted by the Israeli army, in particular Al Aqsa TV and radio whose studios have been repeatedly hit. Also hit were Al Jawharah Tower which houses several media, the offices of Media 1 TV, and even Al Jazeera office in Al Shorooq Tower was shot at, hours after Israel’s foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman called for the broadcaster to be banned from Israel.
 
The IFJ has no doubt that, according to the Geneva Convention’s Article 79 Protocol Additional I, any targeting of journalist is a serious breach of international humanitarian law and Article 85 of the convention considers this to be a war crime. Materials and facilities used by journalists are civilian objects according to Article 52 and, consequently, the bombing of a TV or radio station, even if it is partly used for propaganda, is not reconcilable with international humanitarian law.
 
We take these breaches of international conventions very seriously and, whenever they happen, we make representations to the Israeli authorities reminding them of their responsibility under international laws. At a time when every attempt at a ceasefire has floundered, we are extremely concerned that the security situation of journalists in Gaza will worsen without a concerted and unified voice to denounce the violations of journalists’ rights in Gaza and mobilise world opinion for change on the ground.
 
We will therefore continue to call on all our affiliates worldwide, including the National Writers’ Union in the US, to provide humanitarian support to their Palestinian colleagues and, most importantly, solidarity from journalist to journalist.
I can assure you that journalists from all the over the world will continue to stand up with our colleagues and help them in their greatest hour of need.
 
Yours in solidarity,
 
 
Jim Boumelha IFJ President
International Federation of Journalists,
 
International Press Centre
Résidence Palace, Block C,
155 Rue de la Loi, B1040
Brussels
Tel: +32 2 235 2200 Fax: +32 2 235 2219
E-mail: ifj@ifj.org
 
 

 

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Union News

04/30/2010 - 11:54pm

Writers across the country are receiving letters from HarperCollinsRandom House, and other publishers asking them to sign e-book amendments to their book contracts.

  

 If you receive such a letter from any publisher, please contact the NWU's Grievance and Contract Division right away. The GCD will set you up with an NWU Contract Advisor who can examine your contract and provide you with expert advice. Contract advice is a free benefit available to NWU members. You can contact the GCD via email at advice@nwu.org. If you are not an NWU member, join today.

04/03/2010 - 9:33pm

On March 24 the National Writers Union submitted a brief to the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator in response to a request for public comments about “the costs IP infringement imposes on the U.S. economy, the threat to public health and safety posed by IP infringement, and recommendations for a U.S. government strategic plan for dealing with IP infringement.” In the past, publishers have tried to speak for writers on this issue. Now it's critical that writers speak for ourselves about who the real copyright infringers are and what we think should be done about it.

03/23/2010 - 12:17am

On March 2, the US Supreme Court reversed the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and voted 8-0 (Justice Sotomayor did not participate in the case) to uphold an $18 million settlement of a copyright infringement suit between Internet publishers and freelance writers.

02/11/2010 - 1:05am

 Dan McCrory, Recording Secretary, explains this important legislation

 The U.S. Senate will soon consider a proposed federal shield law that provides the same protections to freelance journalists as to writers employed by newspapers, magazines, broadcast outlets and online publishers. The Free Flow of Information Act, S. 448, could have implications for all media workers, legislators and government officials, opinion leaders and the general public.

02/11/2010 - 12:27am

A message to NWU members from Edward Hasbrouck (co-chair Book Division):

We saw many lapsed and former NWU members at recent events about the Google Book settlement in New York and Berkeley. Here's what one of them, a member of the Authors Guild, wrote to the court after the NWU event:

http://thepublicindex.org/docs/amended_settlement/borsook. pdf

Our work on this has been for all writers, not just our members.

Please tell your friends about what we've been doing, and let them know: If you want to make a living from writing -- books, articles, blogging, technical writing, Web content, any kind of writing in any medium, genre, or format -- the NWU wants and *needs* you back!

02/06/2010 - 12:18am

 

On February 4, the U.S. Department of Justice broadened its opposition to the proposed Google Book settlement, including key objections raised by authors. Click here for the DOJ brief.
01/29/2010 - 4:42pm

Howard Zinn, historian, activist, and a member of the National Writers Union and the Boston Chapter for almost 20 years, died on January 27, 2010. But his life and writing will inspire grassroots activists for many future generations.

01/29/2010 - 4:27pm

New York City - January 28: The NWU's objections to the revised Google Books settlement proposal were filed with the U.S. District court today by our pro bono counsel from the Fordham University Law School.

01/27/2010 - 12:59pm

 At 10:00 PST/1:00 EST, Apple is unveiling its long-awaited somewhat mysterious new reader (code name: tablet). This isn’t just a new techie gadget, but a big story for writers.  In addition to the new reader, Apple is coming up with a new business model.  Unlike Amazon’s fixed low book prices, Apple is allowing publishers discretion and book prices are expected to be higher.  The split will favor publishers: Amazon splits revenue 50/50 with publishers, Apple’s model is expected to be 30/70. This sounds good, but it may not translate into higher royalties.  What else is new? 

 
Here are a couple of links about this subject.  The WSJ is a preview (they’ve recently started charging for content), but it explains the model pretty well, so if you are interested I recommend reading the full article (the comments attached to the preview are free):
 
Back to Amazon’s e-books: Publishers have been giving away some authors’ e-books as a free download on Kindle. The other day, the New York Times ran an article (With Kindle, the Best Sellers Don’t Need to Sell) about the impact on writers when their books are being given away for free as e-books. It tackles the question of whether or not writers are benefiting from their books being given away for free.  While at first blush we would disagree, it really is a lot more complex of an issue.  Some writers are seeing a bounce in sales of their newer books when their older ones are being given away as free e-books.
 
Please join us in talking about these issues.
 
12/28/2009 - 8:00pm

If you've ever written anything that might be in the collection of a major library—not just books—you might be affected by the proposed settlement of the Google Book Search ("GBS") copyright infringement lawsuit.

 
To help inform NWU members and other writers, the NWU has posted a new set of answers to Frequently Asked Questions about the revised Google Book Search settlement proposal and the choices all authors need to make by the new deadline of January 28, 2010.  This also includes a sample letter writers can use if they want to opt out of the proposed settlement.  This document (FAQ) is on the Google Settlement page of the website. 
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