Hearst’s magazine journalists protest a mandatory return to the office.

The company’s journalists joined the Writers Guild in 2020 and have asked in contract talks for a flexible work arrangement. The company has rejected that request.

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Hearst’s magazine journalists protest a mandatory return to the office.

Most employees would be expected to return to Hearst Tower in midtown Manhattan three days a week.Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

Nov. 9, 2021, 10:00 a.m. ET

More than 300 employees at Hearst’s magazine division have signed a petition objecting to the company’s plan to have them return to the office starting next week, and their union has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

Hearst, whose titles include Cosmopolitan, Esquire and Good Housekeeping, told staff in October that they would be required to return to U.S. offices starting Nov. 15.

For the first two weeks, workers are expected to come in once a week; then the requirement will be two days per week until early 2022. Eventually, workers will be required to be in the office — the Hearst Tower in midtown Manhattan for many — three days a week, the company has said. Hearst is also requiring that all employees be vaccinated.

“We recognize that returning to the office is a big step and that some people are apprehensive about it,” Debi Chirichella, Hearst’s president, said in an email to staff last month. “Adjusting to this new way of working will require the same flexibility, patience and collaboration that we all demonstrated when we began working from home.”

Employees have pushed back. Some 300 — representing a majority of the approximately 550 in the magazine division as well as the 450 in its union — sent their petition to a top Hearst executive on Monday. It calls for the company to do away with required office days, according to a spokesman for the Writers Guild of America, East, the union that represents Hearst journalists.

“We support a continuation of the functional norm that we have reached as a result of our extraordinary circumstances, with employees and teams able to make decisions that are appropriate for their work needs,” the petition said. “We have seen our colleagues adapt to unprecedented changes in our work lives without a drop in productivity.”

A Hearst spokeswoman did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

On Nov. 4, the Writers Guild filed an unfair labor practice charge against Hearst with the National Labor Relations Board, saying the company had failed to provide requested information over return-to-office protocols. The company’s journalists won a vote to unionize in July 2020 and are negotiating their first contract.

The bargaining committee has asked for a flexible arrangement, and the company rejected it, said Jason Speakman, an associate digital visuals editor at Men’s Health who is a member of the bargaining committee.

Mr. Speakman said that most of his colleagues don’t want to be required to return to the office, while others would accept mandatory office days, but not three per week. The reasons for the preference for remote work ranged “from the extra hour of sleep in the morning when they’re not commuting to the mental health toll of commuting on a crowded train to caring for family members in another part of the country,” he said.

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