In a chilly year for the news business, union organizing is smoking hot

2018.12.13 | Poynter.org

Voting for union Workers at the Daily Hampshire Gazette and Valley Advocate in Northampton, Mass., voted Dec. 12 in favour of forming a union, the Pioneer Valley NewsGuild. (Photo: Courtesy of ACNews)

RICK EDMONDS | Poynter

[~] Put 2018 in the rear view mirror ASAP for those trying to make money by doing journalism. Newspaper revenues are still sinking fast. Magazines are cutting, closing and changing hands. Nor are digital sites any longer up, up and away. The vagaries of publishing on Facebook and other platform giants are zapping them, too. And that’s not to mention Facebook, Google and Amazon’s cookie monster gobbling digital ad revenue.

Cause and effect or not, the NewsGuild and Writers Guild, by contrast, are having a banner year for organizing and bargaining. NewsGuild president Bernie Lunzer assures me that lots more of the same is coming in 2019.

Here is how fast the action has become:

* The Daily Hampshire Gazette and Valley Advocate, owned by Newspapers of New England, voted 40 to 29 for representation Wednesday.

* New York Magazine print and digital writers had 80 percent backing in petitioning for recognition Tuesday. Voluntary acceptance appears likely.

* At Slate, journalists who are represented by the Writers Guild rather than the NewsGuild, authorized a strike (not the same as actually striking) Tuesday by a 52 to 1 vote.

Two differences in the new wave of organization and bargaining stand out. Management at many of the publications – the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, The New Yorker and The Guardian (U.S.) for example – have chosen not to oppose the effort and have accepted union certification without the delay and formality of an election.

Bitter management opposition to organizing, deploying union-busting lawyers and PR firms was more the norm for much of the 20th century. It hasn’t disappeared, as detailed in a CJR story this week, but there is less of it.

Second difference: At digital sites, unionization proceeds from a standing start. The group is so new that there is no history of union representation similar to what metro newspapers have had for many decades. That means unionizing is a leap into the unknown for a New York- and Washington-centered workforce largely populated by millennials.

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