Eus­tace Til­ley, Union Strong

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The New Yorker and Fast Com­pany are the lat­est mag­a­zines look­ing to union­ize as the me­dia in­dus­try feels more pre­car­i­ous than ever.The New Yorker, which is or­ga­niz­ing through the NewsGuild of New York, pre­sented editor in chief David Rem­nick with a let­ter on Wed­nes­day morn­ing ask­ing that the mag­a­zine and par­ent com­pany Condé Nast vol­un­tar­ily rec­og­nize its union. The New Yorker is the first, and thus far only, Condé Nast prop­erty to form a union. Ac­cord­ing to a spokesman for NewsGuild, there are no other ef­forts to union­ize un­der­way at Condé Nast.

“Our de­ci­sion to union­ize comes at a mo­ment when much of what de­fines The New Yorker — its at­mos­phere of de­lib­er­a­tion and care and its de­vo­tion to factual ac­cu­racy, care­ful prose and ex­pert de­sign — is vul­ner­a­ble to com­pet­ing pri­or­i­ties from our cor­po­rate par­ent, Condé Nast,” the or­ga­niz­ers wrote in a mis­sion state­ment. “We are deter­mined to do ev­ery­thing we can to pro­tect the health and the in­tegrity of our pub­li­ca­tion from staff cuts and re­or­ga­ni­za­tions handed down by cor­po­rate man­age­ment with­out warn­ing or trans­parency,”

Al­though The New Yorker has been largely in­su­lated from over­all cuts and re­struc­tur­ing at Condé Nast, staffers cited the threat of cor­po­rate re­struc­tur­ing — along with “job se­cu­rity, fairer pay, proper over­time com­pen­sa­tion, clearer paths to job ad­vance­ment, a com­mit­ment to staff di­ver­sity and more work­place trans­parency” as rea­sons to or­ga­nize.

“Cer­tainly, Condé has this larger cor­po­rate struc­ture that’s bear­ing down on the mag­a­zine and there have been threats of mak­ing changes to the way the mag­a­zine op­er­ates,” Nas­taran Mo­hit, or­ga­niz­ing di­rec­tor of NewsGuild who worked with The New Yorker staff to or­ga­nize, said.

Ac­cord­ing to Mo­hit, the staff ap­proached the union about a year ago with a sense of anx­i­ety around the on­go­ing re­or­ga­ni­za­tion within Condé Nast. This lent it­self to the “very un­der­ground” union ef­fort at The New Yorker, which lead­er­ship told or­ga­niz­ers they had no idea of un­til they were pre­sented with the for­mal union­iza­tion let­ter Wed­nes­day morn­ing.

The NewsGuild said 90 per­cent of the around 115 union-el­i­gi­ble em­ploy­ees on staff have voted to join. El­i­gi­ble em­ploy­ees ex­clude ed­i­to­rial staffers in man­age­rial and su­per­vi­sory roles, as well as most staff writ­ers who, de­spite their higher pro­files in the mag­a­zine, are mostly em­ployed as in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tors and, as such, are also with­out ac­cess to em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits.

“While staff writ­ers can’t be in­cluded in the union, the or­ga­niz­ers are very in­tent on ad­vo­cat­ing for them through­out this process,” Mo­hit said. “Some [staff writ­ers] are OK with their clas­si­fi­ca­tion, but there are many more who are very un­happy that they don’t get any ben­e­fits and they only work for

The New Yorker.”

Mo­hit noted that worker con­cerns at The New Yorker ac­tu­ally go back decades, as it tried to or­ga­nize once be­fore in 1976.

Fast Com­pany, which is owned by bil­lion­aire Joe Man­sueto, who heads the in­vest­ment firm Morn­ingstar, also re­vealed a union ef­fort on Wed­nes­day, through Writ­ers Guild of Amer­ica East. The union rep­re­sents about 40 peo­ple in ed­i­to­rial, so­cial and photo staff at the mag­a­zine.

“We love Fast Com­pany and want to help work to­ward pre­serv­ing its best as­pects dur­ing a tu­mul­tuous time in dig­i­tal me­dia,” Fast Com­pany’s or­ga­niz­ing staff wrote in a state­ment. “By or­ga­niz­ing, we want to make sure that our voices are part of the ma­jor de­ci­sions re­quired to nav­i­gate this in­dus­try.”

Sim­i­lar to The New Yorker group, Fast Com­pany staff also al­luded to their con­cerns around fair pay, ben­e­fits, severance and em­ployee clas­si­fi­ca­tion as the mag­a­zine changes.

The New Yorker and Fast Com­pany both de­clined to com­ment and Condé Nast did not re­spond to re­peated re­quests for com­ment.

Both union­iza­tion ef­forts come at a time when staffers at me­dia com­pa­nies have in­creas­ingly turned to col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing. In just the past few years, a string of me­dia out­lets have union­ized, in­clud­ing The Los An­ge­les Times, Vox Me­dia, Thril­list, Huff­in­g­ton Post, Gawker Me­dia (now Giz­modo Me­dia Group), Vice Me­dia, Sa­lon Me­dia, Mic, ThinkProgress and The Guardian U.S.

Mo­hit linked this new wave of union­iza­tion to the broader changes in me­dia, led by the mas­sive con­sumer shift away from print, and that News Guild has ev­ery in­ten­tion of work­ing to bring in any ed­i­to­rial group that wants to be union­ized.

“We’re ab­so­lutely go­ing to con­tinue to rep­re­sent as many peo­ple in this in­dus­try as pos­si­ble,” Mo­hit said, “be it mag­a­zines, news­pa­pers, legacy pub­li­ca­tions or dig­i­tal start-ups.”

The NewsGuild al­ready rep­re­sents The New York Times and The Wall Street Jour­nal, which is go­ing through its own dig­i­tally fo­cused re­or­ga­ni­za­tion, as well as a num­ber of mag­a­zines, in­clud­ing The New Repub­lic, The Na­tion and Mered­ith Corp. ti­tles Peo­ple, Money, For­tune, Sports Il­lus­trated and Time, the lat­ter four of which are cur­rently up for sale.

While it’s un­clear how Condé Nast or Fast Com­pany in­tends to deal with the new union ef­forts, vol­un­tary recog­ni­tion and bar­gain­ing is an op­tion, as is ac­tively work­ing against union­iza­tion.

TD Amer­i­trade founder Joe Rick­etts de­cided last Novem­ber to shut down lo­cal news out­lets Gothamist and DNA Info soon af­ter staffers voted to form a union and Los An­ge­les Times par­ent Tronc openly urged staffers to re­ject union­iza­tion. Tronc sud­denly de­cided this year to sell off The Times to Nant Cap­i­tal, owned by med­i­cal in­dus­try bil­lion­aire Dr. Pa­trick Soon-Shiong, al­though the $500 mil­lion deal is tak­ing longer than ex­pected to close. Mean­while, Gothamist, with­out DNA Info, has been re­born with the help of lo­cal pub­lic ra­dio sta­tions WNYC, KPCC and WAMU, which in April ac­quired all of the site’s as­sets and re­launched.


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