There are many media organizations that espouse progressive values—in their editorial product, and in their stated corporate beliefs. Now, employees are asking for unions. How progressive are these good liberal businesses, really?
On July 2, the editorial employees of noted left-wing publication Salon unanimously announced their intention to unionize. A month has now passed. The editorial employees of Salon still do not have a union. That is strange, because they unanimously requested a union, and—as their own publication enthusiastically trumpets at every opportunity—unions are good for workers, and indeed, could be the salvation of the middle class.
Salon is not a neutral media outlet that sometimes runs liberal views. Salon is an explicitly left-wing media outlet that exists to publish stories that promote things like unions. But, as any publisher can tell you, words are cheap. Actions are much more dear. And the actions of Salon’s management are not reflecting well on their progressive credentials at the moment.
In order for Salon’s employees to get their union going, all that needs to happen is for Salon’s management to recognize them—in essence, to accept that their union exists, and prepare to negotiate a contract with them. This can be done in a day. Instead, it hasn’t been done in a month. Salon’s employees have taken to complaining (quite politely, so far) on Twitter, under the hashtag #SalonUnion. They would be justified in complaining less politely.
Here is what Salon’s management did when their employees requested a union: first, they hired a PR firm and a labor lawyer; then, they made a response that was considered scoff-worthy and unserious; now, employees hope that by next week another, more acceptable response will be forthcoming. You will notice that this list is markedly different from what progressive values would have dictated, which would have been to just recognize the union. Organizers say they are “losing patience,” though they remain hopeful. When I asked for a comment from (well compensated) Salon CEO Cindy Jeffers, I received a reply from a spokesperson at Edelman, the PR firm, who offered this on Jeffers’ behalf: “Our employees are very important to us and we respect their right to organize. We are in the process of considering their request and hope to reach a mutually satisfactory conclusion in the very near future.”
Hope is not a union.
I will pause here for disclosures: Gawker Media organized our own union just a month before Salon; the union that we joined, the Writers Guild East, is the same union Salon is seeking to join; Salon is working with the same organizers that we worked with, and using the same union personnel that we are now using in our process of negotiating a contract. The theoretical conflicts of interest in this story are infinite. Still, what I am saying here is true.
The unionization of new media organizations is becoming a popular idea. Union drives are quietly proceeding apace at news outlets as we speak. This week, the Guardian’s US staffers announced a unanimous request to unionize. Their union was recognized immediately. The Guardian certainly tends liberal, but it is not as fiery and outspoken in its progressive ideals as Salon is.
So why won’t the leaders of Salon recognize their workers’ union? There is no excuse. Perhaps if they had saved the money they spent on a PR firm and a labor lawyer and put it towards a contract for their employees, they would not be so fearful.
The Huffington Post is a progressive news site. It is only a matter of time before some of their employees ask to unionize. Will Arianna Huffington, a good liberal, support their request?
Buzzfeed has publicly stated its commitment to a variety of progressive ideals. It is only a matter of time before some of its employees ask to unionize. Will Ben Smith and Jonah Peretti support their request?
Vice prides itself on telling the real story. Vice is superficially opposed to the entrenched corporate power structure. It is only a matter of time before some of its employees ask to unionize. Will Shane Smith, the hero of the grown-up counterculture, support their request?
Words are cheap. Unions can cost money. This is where we learn how real all of these nice progressive media bosses really are. If they won’t support their own workers’ union, they were lying the whole time.
[Photos via AP]