An­other Union

WWD Digital Daily - - In Focus: Technology -

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.

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