Seven Seas Workers Make Waves

On May 23rd, employees at Seven Seas made a surprise announcement: they were trying to unionize. By creating a labor group called United Workers of Seven Seas in conjunction with Communication Workers of America, employees wanted better benefits like healthcare and paid time off, more manageable workloads with better pay and defined schedules, and hiring full-time positions while letting freelancers work local.

And they just may get their wish: Seven Seas is acknowledging the union.

No election would be needed, and now the two sides could work on creating a contract.

To say this is huge would be an understatement. Early indications was that Seven Seas would enter into a dragged-out legal battle, as they hired one of the top law firms in the country on this issue. UW7S had a list of 32 employees supporting the effort to organize, and even with some being confident vote as inligible to because they are considered management, UW7S was they still had a supermajority and decided not to contest those individuals’ right to participate in the election.

With the electorate established, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) would mail ballots on June 24th, and they would be tallied on August 1st.

However, Seven Seas reversed course and agreed to voluntarily recognize the union on June 24th, the day the ballots were to be (or perhaps already) mailed. According to their statement, Seven Seas did so “to protect everyone involved” and get beyond this “challenging time” so that together they can “sail towards an even brighter future”.

This makes Seven Seas the first unionized manga publisher in North America.

So what will happen now? Well, just because the union is being formed doesn’t mean there will be a lot of immediate changes. It can take years before a first contract is finalized.

Bloomberg Law Estimates the average length of time for initial negotiations to be 409 days — in other words, 1 year, 1 month, and 2 weeks. One analyst says there’s only about a 50-50 chance of reaching an agreement in a year, with additional estimates calculating it will take about a year and a half.

DISH Network fought a multi-years-long battle after workers near Dallas, Texas organized and even was sued by the NLRB, but workers eventually got their contract in 2022. Negotiations began back in 2010.

So while Seven Seas has agreed to let their employees join a union, this doesn’t mean they’ll agree to all — or even most — of UW7S’ demands. A few of their wants could be rather easy for both sides to agree to while others could be more contentious. How many days should be included in paid time off? Even on June 24th, just minutes after the announcement, the union added reproductive healthcare to their stated goals. So some could be added over the course, and others be deprioritized.

I’m sure over the course of negotiations there will be accusations lobbied on both sides of stalling or unreasonable demands, but with Seven Seas choosing not to fight the existence of the union, it is a promising first step in their working relationship. Yes, they could have avoided needing to get the NLRB to sanction an election, but better at the very least, it shaves a month and a half off of this saga. That month and a half will be better spent on working on the contract. UW7S made history in becoming the first manga publishing union, and I’m sure everyone — fans included – wouldn’t like to see such a milestone ruined by a dragged-out contract battle.

Also, very few things in life have a first to do something not followed by a second to do something, and I’m sure even translators, letterers, and publishers outside of Seven Seas’ scope are going to watch these contract deliberations very closely. At the very least, maybe with set standards and defined chains of command and workgroups, they can avoid wading into translation controversies so often…

What do you think of the news and how this will impact the industry?

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