HarperCollins Publishers announced they’ll be cutting approximately 5% of their workforce, a day before negotiations open with their striking union.

The statement released Tuesday by the publishing giant cites low sales and rising costs in the industry, just as they did before a round of layoffs last fall. But the timing of this incident, only one day before HarperCollins and union representatives are to meet with a federal mediator, strikes many as suspicious.

Over 250 employees, including editorial assistants, production designers, and other entry- and mid-level staff have been on strike since November 10. Among the issues are low salaries, and an extended period with no signed contract. The employees are represented by Local 2110 of the United Auto Workers, as there is no publishing-specific union. The company, which is a part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, has around 2300 employees in North America and 4000 worldwide.

“As noted last October, HarperCollins continues to experience unprecedented supply chain and inflationary pressures resulting from the pandemic, including increased paper, manufacturing, labor, and distribution costs,” says the statement released by HarperCollins. “Coupled with declining sales over the last few quarters, these issues have resulted in us having to make difficult decisions to realign the needs and resources of the business.”

It’s true that virtually all print publishing saw heavy sales declines after 2021, which was one of the best years in the past fifty years for the industry. HarperCollins reported an 11% drop in revenue and a 54% drop in earnings from 2021 to 2022, taking them below pre-pandemic profit records but not to anything unusually low. They reported $2 billion in revenue in 2021. Also between 2021 and 2023, HarperCollins acquired HMH Books & Media, Pavilion Books, and Cider Mill Press.

“The company has not communicated with us on this matter so we are still investigating the scope of layoffs,” Olga Brudastova, the Local’s president, told The Associated Press.

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