The hard-snarking editors at Gawker Media voted 80-27 to unionize yesterday. With the vote, the editorial staff of Gawker, Deadspin, Jezebel and several other sites join the Writers Guild of America, making them the first major online journalism venture to vote themselves the ability to collectively bargain.
“The next steps: determining what we want to bargain for; forming a bargaining committee; and negotiating a contract,” the staff wrote in a post announcing the tally Thursday morning.
Depending on your POV, this is a major territorial advance for the waning American union, which represents a decreasing slice of the American workforce in increasingly outsourced industries. Former New York Times labor reporter Steven Greenhouse had a great rundown of the frontier yesterday:
The Gawker effort is unusual in numerous ways, starting with the fact that its supporters say Gawker is currently a good place to work. Many say they want a union as a sort of insurance policy in case the next generation of managers is not so nice. “We’re in a very good place right now,” wrote Anne Merlan, a Jezebel writer, in an online debate about unionizing. “But we also exist in a bubble. When it bursts, I’d like us to have fair labor practices in place to protect everyone and provide for them in the event of ‘downsizing.'”
In another twist, the company has not opposed the unionization drive; indeed, Gawker’s founder, Nick Denton, said he was “intensely relaxed” about it. The company and the Writers Guild East even issued a joint statement: “We believe the cumbersome and often fractious process of unionization is premised on an assumption of complete antagonism between management and labor. Nothing of the kind exists at Gawker Media.”
Whether that’s a fluke or a harbinger of a new style of worker organizing remains to be seen. Gawker has been merciless in exposing the labor practices of rival publications such as Vice and Huffington Post, while the online writing industry in general remains mired in unpaid internships, low salaries, and borderline non-existent grievance processes for employees.
“Every workplace could use a union,” longtime Gawkerist Hamilton Nolan wrote in April. “A union is the only real mechanism that exists to represent the interests of employees in a company. A union is also the only real mechanism that enables employees to join together to bargain collectively, rather than as a bunch of separate, powerless entities. This is useful in good times (which our company enjoys now), and even more in bad times (which will inevitably come).”
UPDATE 9:27 a.m.: Writer’s Guild of America East responds:
“As Gawker’s writers have demonstrated, organizing in digital media is a real option, not an abstraction. People who do this work really can come together for their own common good,” said Lowell Peterson, Executive Director of the Writers Guild of America, East. “The WGAE, Gawker’s writers, and the company’s management share a commitment to journalistic integrity and creative freedom. We are eager for Gawker’s editorial staff to join our creative community, and we are eager to negotiate a fair contract.”
[Image via Shutterstock]
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