BuzzFeed’s staff union effort seems to be in a deadlock with executives.
Staffers in the news division, who went public with their union effort about four months ago, staged a four-hour walkout this afternoon in an effort to force BuzzFeed chief executive officer Jonah Peretti to voluntarily recognize the unit and its demands. But Peretti doesn’t seem poised to back down.
In a memo to staff, Peretti said union leaders, represented by NewsGuild of New York, are declining to accept a bargaining contract that is “both responsive to our employees’ requests, and mindful of the way the company operates.”
“Our offer is a good one and it remains on the table today,” Peretti wrote.
A company spokesman added that BuzzFeed leadership has no intention of backing down on the two issues that are at the core of the union’s rejection. On the flip side, the company is ready to recognize today its proposal, put on the table June 4, and there is a sense that the whole process has taken longer than anyone on either side expected.
Peretti said in his note that the proposal is “the product of more than three months of discussions and negotiations with the NewsGuild” and said BuzzFeed’s staff is now “seeking to impose additional demands that threaten our progress around voluntary recognition.”
Staff union leadership is rejecting the contract proposal on two points.
The first regards which workers are included in the official bargaining unit, an issue from early on in contract negotiations and a relatively common area of disagreement in union bargaining contracts. BuzzFeed is proposing that certain job titles be listed in the contract as excluded from the unit, while the union, represented by NewsGuild of New York, is pushing for no hard and fast exclusions.
The second issue is over the matter of BuzzFeed hiring between now and when a collective bargaining contract is formally ratified, which could be several more weeks. Union leaders are said to be pushing for a hiring freeze, while BuzzFeed is pushing to continue hiring as it wishes, up and until a CBA is ratified. If BuzzFeed hires before a contract is ratified, it could mean more excluded staffers.
Peretti claims the union is pushing for oversight control of any individual employment contracts in the interim period, something he said is “not acceptable for us as a business or as a world-class news organization.”
At their core, both outstanding issues deal with the size of the bargaining unit. Typically, unions want broad language for inclusion, so more people can be represented in the bargaining unit. Meanwhile, companies tend to prefer more specific language, so as to keep units smaller. As BuzzFeed executives see it, the company has been open to voluntary recognition since the beginning, but will only be pushed so far. As staffers see it, the company, led by Peretti, has been unyielding with its refutation of the bargaining unit and is trying to keep it as small as possible.
“Throughout the process, BuzzFeed has attempted to exclude workers they claim are managerial, supervisory, or confidential despite the fact that these journalists neither manage employees nor are privy to confidential information,” NewsGuild wrote in a statement on the walkout.
“Unionizing should be seen as the tide that lifts all boats for workers at this company, something I am not sure management has grasped yet,” Davey Alba, a tech reporter for BuzzFeed News, added. “After four months, I hope we will finally see management recognize our union on fair terms.”
But Peretti seems to be holding firm. He urged the news staff to “accept the offer on the table, which will allow us to move forward.”
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