Why Al Jazeera America digital workers went union

September 3, 2015
Category: Uncategorized

Digital workers at Al Jazeera America were moved to join a union in search of “coherence, structure and clarity” in resolving a disparate set of grievances.

“In talking about this with people in different departments, we realized that there were many very different issues of concern to people,” Gregg Levine, the digital news editor of Al Jazeera America, said Thursday after formal disclosure of the move.

The digital workers joined editorial counterparts at several other media organizations that have recently opted to go union.

In no instance has any group yet sat down with management and attempted to bargain a first contract. The NewsGuild of New York, which will now represent the AJAM workers, has not heard back from management as to whether it will voluntarily recognize the union and thus not force a formal vote overseen by the National Labor Relations Board.

In some departments at AJAM, said Levine, there were questions of how people actually get raises. In others, there were chain of command issues with people unclear as to who really is in charge. In others, there were concerns about working together across departments.

Levine said the means to resolve those separate issues was a topic of discussion for many months and predated recent moves by other digital media to go union, including Gawker and Vox.

And it played out in an extremely diverse workplace, “the most diverse I have ever worked in,” said Levine, 53.

“The issues all seemed different, but in every case there didn’t seem a clear path to resolution. We all concluded the company is confusing and our grievances would peter out before there was any resolution.”

That, he said, prompted interest in a union and seeing a potential collective bargaining agreement as a way to formally outline such a path to deal with workplace concerns.

The 2,800-member New York local represents editorial employees at The New York Times and Reuters, among others. It is one of three related New York City locals that also represent media workers at operations including The Guardian and Dow Jones. They’re all part of the 26,000-member Newspaper Guild and the 600,000 parent organization, the Communications Workers of America.

Peter Szekely, president of The NewsGuild of New York and a former longtime Reuters journalist, said Thursday that AJAM digital workers “approached management a few days ago and presented their mission statement and ask they voluntarily recognize the guild as bargaining agent.”

He said it was too early to say what their response might be.