Yet another digital outlet has formed a union, as if it wasn’t already clear digital media is facing uncertain times.
Editorial staffers at Refinery29, a web site focused largely on Millennial women, are the latest to unionize under the Writers Guild of America East. The group said a “clear majority” of the site’s 40-member staff has signed union cards and asked management for voluntary recognition in order to begin a collective bargaining process.
The site’s organizing committee cited the ethos behind the editorial brand they work for as part of the inspiration for the effort to unionize. But as last year made clear — with reductions in staff at Refinery29 and a host of other digital media companies facing the end of a nearly decade-long industry bull run — there are things to fear.
“Every day we watch our coworkers, a majority of whom are women, make contributions and execute ideas that make Refinery29 unlike any other media outlet — but that doesn’t mean we are immune to the challenges our industry is currently facing,” the committee wrote in a joint statement. “By organizing, we hope to protect our progressive, creative and fearless spirit by giving employees a seat at the table, including during the times when Refinery29 must decide how it will adapt to the shifting media landscape. Additionally, we want to ensure our voice comprises diverse, fairly paid and excited employees, who have no trouble seeing a future at the company.”
Specific issues of focus for the union are business transparency, staff diversity and employment security, but any issues will be shaped further by the collective bargaining process that must include company management.
A Refinery29 spokeswoman said management is currently at CES in Las Vegas, but offered a rather hopeful statement on the union effort.
“We are looking forward to working with the WGA,” the company said. “Refinery29’s mission is to be a catalyst for women to feel, see and claim their power, and we are dedicated to continuing to provide our employees a supportive and great place to work.”
Refinery29 joins a number of digital media workers to unionize over the last year or so. Vice Media just expanded its union by 200 members under WGAE and not long before that staffers at New York Magazine launched their own unionization effort under NewsGuild of New York. Last year also saw Fast Company gain voluntary recognition of an editorial union, as did permanent staff at The New Yorker, making it the only property under Condé Nast to have a bargaining unit as the company moves through corporate upheaval.
Earlier union efforts have included staffs at Vox Media, Gizmodo Media Group and HuffPost, among others, and all have cited some mix of job insecurity and a general feeling that workers were left out of decision-making that directly affects their work and future employment. One exception is BuzzFeed, a brand almost synonymous with digital media growth, leaving one to wonder how long that newsroom has to go before announcing their own union drive.
It’s little wonder that so many digital-only newsrooms are looking to unions for some sense of security as, on the whole, the industry is coming up against investor impatience for profitability and revenue stability. — K.H.