Condé Nast Reaches Deal With Union…Without Expanded Healthcare for Trans Employees

After months of negotiations and looming threats of a strike on Met Gala Monday, the company reached a tentative agreement with its union...but expanded healthcare for trans employees got left on the table.

Condé Nast Reaches Deal With Union…Without Expanded Healthcare for Trans Employees

Last week, it very much seemed like the Condé Nast Union was about to rain on the Met Gala’s parade of performative activism and very pretty gowns. But in the wee Monday morning hours, Condé Nast—which publishes Vogue, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Teen Vogue, and GQ, among others—and its union finally reached a tentative contract with management, successfully averting what could have been a dramatic strike on “Fashion’s Biggest Night.”

“Our pledge to do ‘whatever it takes’ ahead of the [Met Gala] moved the company and our progress at the bargaining table kicked into high gear,” the Condé Union wrote in a statement shared on Twitter.

Among the victories are a $61,500 starting salary floor, guaranteed comp time after 40 hours of work, expanded bereavement leave, two more weeks of family leave (14 total), and $3.3 million in total wage increases. And for those employees facing layoffs, eight weeks of severance, and three months of COBRA coverage or a one-time lump sum payment. But coverage for expanded healthcare for trans employees in the union was omitted.

So for Alma Avalle, a Bon Appetit writer and web producer, and representative for the union, the wins feel bittersweet. Avalle, who identifies as trans, told Jezebel she spent months researching and writing proposals for expanded healthcare for trans employees only for management to leave them on the table. While the company’s insurance does cover top and bottom surgeries as well as prescriptions for hormones, other gender-affirming procedures for the small number of trans employees in the union (less than 10, by Avalle’s estimation) such as facial feminization and masculinization procedures and voice therapy were ultimately not included in the contract.
“I think it’s especially hypocritical for the company that publishes as well as Teen Vogue and Vogue and GQ and all these other publications to be so willing to profit off of the aesthetics of queerness and the aesthetics of transness, then refuse to give their employees the health care that they need,” Avalle told Jezebel.

The company offers health insurance through AETNA, whose website lists a number of procedures deemed “not medically necessary,” including facial procedures. However, both Hearst Magazines Media‘s and Vox Media‘s contracts—both negotiated by the Writer’s Guild of America East—adhere to World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) standards which consider facial feminization and masculinization to be medically necessary.

Avalle said that in addition to proposing a number of contract options that would’ve included the aforementioned procedures (which, again, have already been ratified in contracts negotiated by the Writer’s Guild of America East), she shared her own personal experience of being unable to access “life-saving” care as an employee at the company while at the bargaining table. To Jezebel, she recalled dealing with depression and feeling “immobilized” by the grief of not being able to access care. 
“It’s incredibly frustrating, as a trans woman, to have to share your own experience and say, ‘I can’t afford gender-affirming surgery, I have to do my job at this glitzy company, knowing this thing that could be potentially life-changing—or even life-saving—for me is out of reach,” Avalle said. “Having to plead that case to a group of presumably cis people and have them tell you ‘What we have is enough’ is so draining.”
“To me, it feels like an issue of apathy,” she continued. “As a trans employee, I, in that moment, felt that Condé Nast did not care about me.”
A representative for Condé Nast did not comment on whether or not it adheres to WPATH standards when contacted by Jezebel.

It’s been two years since employees at Condé Nast announced they were forming a union but it wasn’t until September 2022 (nearly six months after it made headlines) that the company finally formally acknowledged it at all. It’d take another five months for management to join them at the table. Last Monday, Condé Nast Union announced that a majority of its 550 members pledged to strike on May 6 if contract negotiations continued to move “at a glacial pace,” according to a statement from the NewsGuild of New York, the union’s organizing body. writer and reporter James Factora, who also identifies as trans, told Jezebel they were disappointed with the omission, emphasizing how Avalle was one of the leaders in the fight, only to get a contract that doesn’t ensure all her needs are met.

“There’s a particularly cruel irony in the fact that one of the people who was the most instrumental in winning this contract is a trans woman and that she had to leave coverage for really vital care on the table,” Factora told Jezebel. Factora, who is currently seeking top surgery, highlighted all the remaining barriers—from financial to finding the right care provider—despite insurance coverage. The surgery was still quoted at $10,000 out of pocket.

“The thing that I’m always thinking about is just how much more difficult it is for anybody who doesn’t fall into the New York media class which is the vast majority of trans people,” Factora said. “I want people to imagine what it’s like for anybody who doesn’t live in this very privileged class.”

Meanwhile, Avalle said the efforts to expand healthcare for trans employees at the company will not cease after the contract is voted on. “I’m excited to get back up and running now that bargaining is done and I have a bit more time,” she said. “I’m looking forward to building a little more solidarity across the NewsGuild around this issue.”

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin