Since Gawker Media unionized in June, employees from a half dozen other digital media outlets have unionized as well, including Salon, Vice, and The Guardian US. Just yesterday, Al-Jazeera America announced a successful union vote. Other media outlets are quietly talking to union organizers as well.
For the Writers Guild East (which Gawker Media joined) and the News Guild—the two unions working most actively to organize this industry—the obvious unclaimed and not-yet-unionized major prizes are Buzzfeed and Huffington Post. Buzzfeed boss Jona Peretti has already voiced anti-union opinions publicly. Arianna Huffington, though, a longtime mainstream liberal pundit who has built a digital empire by spouting progressive beliefs, would not have much of a leg to stand on by opposing unionizing. Indeed, after last week’s news, she said in a statement that “We fully support our newsroom employees’ right to discuss unionizing and will embrace whatever decision they make on this issue.”
That’s good, because her employees seem to believe that they could use a union’s help. Tales of hellish experiences (or just insufferable ones) working for Huffington have been a staple of media reporting for years.
This morning, a group of Huffington Post employees sent out the following letter to their colleagues, along with an invite to a union meeting with the Writers Guild East in New York. The tone of the letter is quite friendly. But it does not take much reading between the lines to detect the common grievances at the company.
Why We Are Organizing
As you may have already heard, some of us have been in talks with the Writers Guild of America, East to organize a union. Our effort is still young, and we want to hear from everyone. The more people involved, the better the ultimate outcome will be. We’ve heard from oureditor-in-chief. Now let’s talk to each other.
The creative freedom we enjoy is one of the things that makes HuffPost a great place to work. We believe organizing is the best way both to preserve what’s already working and to bring about positive change. Simply, a union will give us a voice in our newsroom’s future. Our colleagues at ThinkProgress, Salon, The Guardian US, Gawker, Vice and Al Jazeera America have all come to the same conclusion.
Below are some of the reasons why we want to unionize. They are just a starting point.
Compensation & Pay: One of the chief goals of unionizing would be to make pay and compensation more transparent and equitable. Creating compensation standards is one of the basic elements of a union contract. We hope to negotiate salary minimums (not maximums); clarify the relationship between workload, pay and titles; and create a fair, regular process for raises.
Clear Job Responsibilities: It is natural for one’s job responsibilities to shift over time depending on the needs of the company, and the freedom to collaborate with colleagues and work flexibly is one of the things that makes HuffPost great. But dramatic changes to employees’ workload and responsibilities, made without employee input, hinder our ability to produce our best work. Through contract negotiations, we hope to establish protocols for changing or adding work responsibilities, and adjusting compensation accordingly.
Establishing Standards for Hiring, Firing and Disciplinary Actions: We need to hire the best people possible in order to keep doing great work. The current hiring process is lengthy, highly subjective, and involves too many levels of review. We miss opportunities to bring on talented people as a result. We would like to see a hiring process that is efficient and sensitive to the needs of our various teams.
Terminations and disciplinary actions should also be transparent and fair. In order for HuffPost to attract and retain the talent we need to be competitive, we should have standards and procedures in place for judging performance, allowing employees to improve based on feedback, and, if it’s appropriate, letting people go. A union contract could allow us to set clear standards, as well as a process to protest unfair disciplinary actions and termination.
Diversity: HuffPost has taken a strong editorial stance in favor of diversity, but this diversity is not reflected among the staff. We would like to formalize our commitment to inclusivity in hiring, and keep HuffPost accountable to that commitment. A union is a formal mechanism to advocate for each other and to address systemic issues at the company on an ongoing basis.
Editorial Freedom and Independence: The only way to ensure HuffPost reporters and writers can hold the monied and powerful accountable is if they are guaranteed protection from retaliation. By negotiating a contract, we hope to formalize HuffPost’s commitment to fearless journalism so that powerful people and institutions can’t use their influence to dictate our coverage or squash stories that are unflattering.
Justin Molito, a Writers Guild organizer who also worked on Gawker’s union campaign, confirmed that the union is actively organizing the Huffington Post, and told us, “The fact that the creative professionals who work at the Huffington Post are now organizing, further demonstrates that this movement is growing more and more powerful every day.”