On March 9, BuzzFeed abruptly shuttered operations of HuffPost Canada, resulting in the loss of jobs for over two dozen workers and the closure of one of Canada’s most highly regarded digital media outlets.
Through negotiations between the company and our newly formed union, most of our former colleagues will receive generous severance packages which include several weeks of pay on top of the legal entitlement. This will be life-changing for many workers who are suddenly out of a job.
However, BuzzFeed has offered inadequate packages to long-term employees, such as those with more than eight years of service. In addition, two of our key co-workers will receive no severance at all.
Two valued HuffPost Canada workers were working on contract when the abrupt closure of the website was announced four weeks ago, at a meeting to which they were not even invited. Because of their contractor status, they are set to receive no severance pay or compensation beyond March 24.
This is unfair and indicative of an industry-wide problem.
HuffPost Canada has employed contractors for years. These contractors were hired through a third-party company called Tal-Ex, and are treated as “contractors” so that HuffPost’s owners can avoid giving them the fair pay, retirement contributions, extended medical benefits, short-term performance incentives or long-term job stability afforded to permanent employees, even as they perform the same jobs. And while contracts often begin as short-term, there is a pattern of them being extended repeatedly, with promises of an eventual conversion to permanent positions.
These are not freelancers who contribute occasionally. Both were vital parts of our newsroom and in ongoing conversations about conversion to permanent positions at the time of the BuzzFeed acquisition. And as HuffPost Canada lost employees whose roles were not replaced during Verizon’s hiring freeze, both of them took on more responsibility than they had signed up for. Since the deal closed on Feb. 16, they continued to work full-time and contribute to HuffPost Canada as normal alongside their “permanent” colleagues.
“The system of treating contract employees as second-class citizens who receive less pay and no benefits while doing the same work as their colleagues is so clearly, blatantly unfair that I don’t know how companies get away with it,” said one former HuffPost Canada employee who was a contractor for over a year before being converted to a full-time employee. “It bothered me that our reporting valued equity and fairness when our own employees are treated this way.”
“HuffPost contractors deserve the same status and benefits as permanent employees. They’ve made invaluable contributions to the brand and must be awarded the same securities as everyone. Not to do so is cruel and arbitrary. It’s time to take a stand against these unfair labour practices,” said another former HuffPost Canada worker.
Contract work and so-called “permalancing” are an endemic issue not only in journalism, but across industries. However, it has become an increasingly problematic issue in Canadian media and is frankly, unacceptable.
Fair treatment of contract workers was a key issue behind HuffPost Canada’s recent union drive, which saw overwhelming support. As such, the HuffPost Canada Union is calling on Buzzfeed to honour the work these two workers have done for all three companies and give them equitable severance in line with their co-workers. These few weeks of pay will give these workers a chance to find other work after such a sudden closure, while still being able to support themselves and their families.
We are calling on members of the community to join in demanding BuzzFeed honour the invaluable contributions of these two contract workers and the dedication of workers with over eight years of service. It’s time BuzzFeed’s actions lived up to its words and all employees were treated with dignity and respect.
HuffPost Canada union