MacArthur may have once defended U.A.W. as “the country’s best and traditionally most honest mass labor organization,” but he contested his staff’s right to unionize, contending that the literary editor and senior editors served as supervisors and hence failed to qualify for protection under the National Labor Relations Act. He hired veteran employment lawyer Bert Pogrebin to advocate on his behalf before the National Labor Relations Board, but the federal agency denied his appeal. The day before staffers held elections and formally joined UAW Local 2110 on Oct. 14, MacArthur wrote a letter assuring them the union would neither give them a voice in the selection of the next editor in chief—he believed Metcalf was angling for the position—nor “solve the financial problems of the magazine or get us more subscribers, newsstand buyers or advertisers.”
Added MacArthur, with a touch of irony: “It will, of course, be able to collect initiation fees and dues from you.”
In January 2011, the magazine laid off union instigator Metcalf and pro-union ally associate editor Theodore Ross, a move that the union interpreted as retaliation and that MacArthur defended as an effort to “cut expenses.”
Of course, one way you can ensure you have the money to pay anti-labor lawyers is to pay your interns a big fat goose egg to work full time in Manhattan.
While MacArthur’s magazine has been unreadable for a while, I was wondering if perhaps there was a commercial justification for what has been intellectually ruinous. Maybe there’s a large market out there that really wants to read the same terrible leftier-than-thou article with a nominally different byline about how Barack Obama betrayed his campaign promises by failing to unilaterally turn the American political economy into Denmark’s every month? Nope: in fact, their circulation is cratering. It’s really a shame what’s happened to what was not that long ago a terrific magazine, but at this point it’s probably never coming back.