Last week, employees of the comic book publisher Seven Seas Entertainment announced on Twitter (because this is where these things happen now) that they were looking to creating a new union, United Workers of Seven Seas, the first union in US manga.
We are United Workers of Seven Seas.
Seven Seas Entertainment is the number one independent publisher of manga, danmei, and light novels in the US. The company has grown exponentially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. But with rapid growth comes growing pains, and we, the workers of Seven Seas, have been shouldering much of that pain. We find ourselves overworked, underpaid, and we do not currently receive the benefits otherwise typical of the publishing industry. We are dedicated to producing a broad range of high-quality content for our readers, but the only way we can do that is if employees are taken care of. For these reasons, we have formed United Workers of Seven Seas (UW7S). We are invoking our right to organize and administer a vote to form a union. We are working closely with Communications Workers of America (CWA), who have helped organize and represent other workers in the entertainment and publishing industry. As a union, we seek to negotiate better working conditions for both Seven Seas employees and the many freelancers who make this company what it is. We look forward to your support and solidarity. #makingwaves #ourflagmeansunion #isekaiispossible
Based in Los Angeles, Seven Seas Entertainment was originally dedicated to the publication of original English-language manga from 2004 on, but now publishes licensed manga and light novels from Japan, as well as select webcomics. The company is headed by Jason DeAngelis, who coined the term "World Manga" for their products and the audience they appeal to. They claim "Releasing 500+ books per year, Seven Seas holds hundreds of licenses from a variety of publishers and rights holders, many of which rank as bestsellers in the category." The United Workers also added the following information;
32 out of 41 eligible Seven Seas Entertainment workers are now in favor of the union! That's a ~78% supermajority vote for fair wages, healthcare and retirement benefits, managerial training, and freelancer protections. We love our jobs, but we need to compensated fairly for our labor. We are editors, designers, administrators, and production staff. We were able to collaborate in our time off the clock to form a union—the sky's the limit for what we could accomplish working together with leadership at @gomanga!
So how would the announcement go over with Seven Seas? Pretty much how it went with Image Comics. Seven Seas released the following statement;
"We appreciate having the opportunity to give our point of view regarding the unionization effort at Seven Seas Entertainment. We respect the rights of our employees to choose or not choose union representation. While we have been requested by a number of employees to voluntarily recognize the CWA as their legal representative—without an NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) conducted election—we have decided to respect the right of all eligible employees to vote on this issue. Since unionization would affect more members of staff than those who have already come forward, an election will ensure that everyone has the opportunity to learn about their rights and the details of this process before they cast their vote through a governed process. We have notified the NLRB that we are prepared to move forward with an election among an appropriate unit of employees, and we will, of course, abide by the outcome of the election."
On Twitter, the United Workers of Seven Seas later added;
"Seven Seas Entertainment (@gomanga) has informed us that it will not voluntarily recognize United Workers of Seven Seas… Because Seven Seas Entertainment (@gomanga) refuses to voluntarily recognize our union, we will be proceeding to election with the NLRB. Seven Seas Entertainment has a deadline with the NLRB to provide their statement of position. They can employ delay tactics but they cannot stop the NLRB election process from moving forward. Our election could be any where from 4 to 12 weeks from now (or longer) depending on how hard they fight us. Time and money wasted by @gomanga delaying the NLRB election could be better spent working TOGETHER with our union to improve working conditions, benefits, and company infrastructure for all staff and freelancers. Again, it's not too late for Seven Seas Entertainment to recognize us voluntarily. We ask that you continue emailing, writing, and tweeting at @gomanga to request the company voluntarily recognize @_UW7S. #SevenSeizeTheMeansOfProduction"
What delay tactics might these be? Today the union tweeted;
"Seven Seas Entertainment (@gomanga), has hired the union-busting firm Ogletree Deakins. Whether or not leadership intends to try and waste our time and theirs with "union avoidance activities," we are disappointed by their choice of legal representation. Ogletree Deakins is the second-largest anti-union law firm in the country. In 2016, they crushed an IKEA union in Stoughton, MA. IKEA was later accused by a group of international unions of using "scare tactics" and "creating environments hostile to organized labor". Ogletree has ties to the RNC, has advocated for anti-Black gerrymandering, and is Duke University's union-busting firm of choice. Ogletree was also hired by ACLU Kansas. This thread is worth a read. It's embarrassing that @gomanga would rather pay Joe Arpaio's fave legal firm than recognize our union. There's still time for leadership to reverse course and work w/ us in good faith to negotiate a contract for fair wages, industry-standard benefits, and freelancer protections. We have organized, we have done the work of hashing out exactly what we, the employees, need to be able to do our jobs and keep Seven Seas afloat. We believe in a better future for the company. Do you?"
Ogletree Deakins describes themselves as a "leading labor and employment law firm" and "advocates for management" and that they pioneer strategies and practices with companies to "develop a trust relationship with employees that minimize the risk of unionization". They also work in "defense of unfair labor practice charges against employers, including those alleging unlawful terminations, failure to bargain in good faith, and conduct allegedly interfering with employee rights; the prosecution of union unfair labor practice charges for unlawful picketing and boycott activities, failure to bargain in good faith, and other violations".
It feels, beat for beat, how this went down with Image Comics. Are history's mistakes being repeated?