November 17, 2017

Vox Media, one of the editorially strongest of digital news newcomers, is confronting a new and similar reality to their print and broadcast counterparts: unionization.

The Writers Guild of America, East announced that editorial and video staff at Vox are signing up with the union. By coincidence, the move comes shortly after a unionizing attempt at DNAInfo/Gothamist in New York prompted billionaire owner Joe Ricketts to abruptly shut down that entire 115-person operation nationwide. Workers had just disclosed their intentions with the same union.

Vox has more than 350 editorial and video staff in Washington and New York. Its founders include journalist Ezra Klein, and it has twinned high-quality news and analysis with substantial outside funding.

"Vox Media’s commitment to quality and innovation, as well as its core values emphasizing ambition, collaboration, and respect, have made this one of the best places to work in the industry," declared the in-house organizing committee in a statement. "There is no better way to cultivate that innovation, and champion our values, than to unionize."

"By organizing, we intend to protect the nimble culture and inclusive, forward-thinking values that make this company great, and to ensure all concerns and challenges can be addressed by a collective voice. An empowered team is an ambitious team, and the greater transparency and collaboration offered by a union will allow us to thrive and take risks in an ever-changing industry."

The union represents writers at "The Daily Show," "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon," "Law & Order SVU," the ABC and CBS broadcast news, and public TV shows such as "Sesame Street."

As relevant, it represents digital news staffs at VICE, HuffPost, The Intercept, Gizmodo Media Group (Splinter, Gizmodo, Jezebel, Deadspin, The Root, Lifehacker, Kotaku, io9, Jalopnik, Earther), ThinkProgress, MTV News, Thrillist and Salon. 

The past several decades have been poor ones for organized labor. And while the numbers being organized in the digital news sectors are small, successfully organizing belies a  conventional wisdom that younger workers — especially white-collar millennials — are averse to collective action, especially when linked to unions.

The decision to go union will prompt the formal request to management to recognize the union as the workers' agent for the purpose of sitting down and bargaining a first contract.

Several scenarios are now possible. In some cases, management will force an election, to be overseen by the National Labor Relations Board. In some instances, it will voluntarily recognize the union and begin talks. It is also possible that there is push-back on which employees would be covered by a contract. For example, the company might argue that some workers exercise managerial functions and should be exempt.

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New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S.…
James Warren

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