By:
March 16, 2021

The Fortune Union announced Tuesday morning it is launching a 24-hour work stoppage, alleging that management has been “subverting the bargaining process” and has repeatedly violated labor laws.

The union, representing 35 staff members at Fortune magazine, has also filed six unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board. They claim that management has instructed employees not to discuss raises and has tried to work around the union by implementing initiatives like a new handbook without going through the bargaining process.

Fortune and the union have been locked in contract negotiations since November 2019. In a press conference Tuesday, unit first vice chair McKenna Moore said that management has slowed the process and refused to respond to roughly 20 proposals.

“We are withholding our labor for 24 hours because it’s important that management remembers what our value is, what our labor is worth, and that we make this publication great,” Moore said. “We have a seat at the table, and they have to listen.”

A Fortune spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

One of the unfair labor practice charges alleges that Fortune management told workers not to talk about their raises or salaries with the union. A pay equity analysis by the union found that on average among members, women make 84% of what men do, and workers of color make 78% of what white workers do.

Several of the unfair labor practice charges center on allegations that management has engaged in “direct dealing” — going directly to employees instead of to their union representative — and tried to bypass the bargaining process. For example, the union said that Fortune has unilaterally implemented a performance evaluation system based on production quotas and traffic metrics, which the union argues is detrimental to producing good journalism.

“It’s been frustrating for a lot of the people in the unit, and it’s resulted in, kind of, changing targets and moving targets and things that have been instituted without our input,” said finance reporter Rey Mashayekhi at the press conference. “It’s just been, I think, a really interesting example of how refusing to collaborate with the union on issues in the workplace can result in issues that impede the work we’re looking to do.”

Fortune has also unilaterally implemented a DEI committee, the union said. The union originally put forth a proposal concerning diversity, equity and inclusion in November 2019, which they say was dismissed until the George Floyd protests. They are still trying to negotiate the proposal with management, who they say refuses to commit to “enforceable contract language.”

“What that says to us is … you want it to be flexible so that you can back out of it when it’s not a political issue that matters to media organizations. We don’t have the courage of our convictions — that’s the message that that sends,” unit secretary Sy Mukherjee said at the press conference.

The Fortune union is one of several unions that are in the midst of negotiations for their first contract. The media industry has seen a number of successful union drives in recent years. Now, many of those newly formed unions are working to secure their first contract.

It typically takes longer to negotiate the first contract. Legal news service Law360, for example, spent nearly two years at the bargaining table. Moore cited Law360’s contract as one that the unit admires and has borrowed from though the unit seeks to tailor their own contract to their needs.

“Management needs to act like there is a union here — because there is a union here,” Moore said. “We need to meet as equal partners to come to a fair contract to make this a better place for everyone.”

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Angela Fu is a reporter for Poynter. She can be reached at afu@poynter.org or on Twitter @angelanfu.
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