The New Yorker and Fast Company are the latest magazines looking to unionize as the media industry feels more precarious than ever.
The New Yorker, which is organizing through the NewsGuild of New York, presented editor in chief David Remnick with a letter on Wednesday morning asking that the magazine and parent company Condé Nast voluntarily recognize its union. The New Yorker is the first, and thus far only, Condé Nast property to form a union. According to a spokesman for NewsGuild, there are no other efforts to unionize underway at Condé Nast.
“Our decision to unionize comes at a moment when much of what defines The New Yorker — its atmosphere of deliberation and care and its devotion to factual accuracy, careful prose and expert design — is vulnerable to competing priorities from our corporate parent, Condé Nast,” the organizers wrote in a mission statement. “We are determined to do everything we can to protect the health and the integrity of our publication from staff cuts and reorganizations handed down by corporate management without warning or transparency,”
Although The New Yorker has been largely insulated from overall cuts and restructuring at Condé Nast, staffers cited the threat of corporate restructuring — along with “job security, fairer pay, proper overtime compensation, clearer paths to job advancement, a commitment to staff diversity and more workplace transparency” as reasons to organize.
“Certainly, Condé has this larger corporate structure that’s bearing down on the magazine and there have been threats of making changes to the way the magazine operates,” Nastaran Mohit, organizing director of NewsGuild who worked with The New Yorker staff to organize, said.
According to Mohit, the staff approached the union about a year ago with a sense of anxiety around the ongoing reorganization within Condé Nast. This lent itself to the “very underground” union effort at The New Yorker, which leadership told organizers they had no idea of until they were presented with the formal unionization letter Wednesday morning.
The NewsGuild said 90 percent of the around 115 union-eligible employees on staff have voted to join. Eligible employees exclude editorial staffers in managerial and supervisory roles, as well as most staff writers who, despite their higher profiles in the magazine, are mostly employed as independent contractors and, as such, are also without access to employment benefits.
“While staff writers can’t be included in the union, the organizers are very intent on advocating for them throughout this process,” Mohit said. “Some [staff writers] are OK with their classification, but there are many more who are very unhappy that they don’t get any benefits and they only work for The New Yorker.”
Mohit noted that worker concerns at The New Yorker actually go back decades, as it tried to organize once before in 1976.
Fast Company, which is owned by billionaire Joe Mansueto, who heads the investment firm Morningstar, also revealed a union effort on Wednesday, through Writers Guild of America East. The union represents about 40 people in editorial, social and photo staff at the magazine.
“We love Fast Company and want to help work toward preserving its best aspects during a tumultuous time in digital media,” Fast Company’s organizing staff wrote in a statement. “By organizing, we want to make sure that our voices are part of the major decisions required to navigate this industry.”
Similar to The New Yorker group, Fast Company staff also alluded to their concerns around fair pay, benefits, severance and employee classification as the magazine changes.
The New Yorker and Fast Company both declined to comment and Condé Nast did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Both unionization efforts come at a time when staffers at media companies have increasingly turned to collective bargaining. In just the past few years, a string of media outlets have unionized, including The Los Angeles Times, Vox Media, Thrillist, Huffington Post, Gawker Media (now Gizmodo Media Group), Vice Media, Salon Media, Mic, ThinkProgress and The Guardian U.S.
Mohit linked this new wave of unionization to the broader changes in media, led by the massive consumer shift away from print, and that News Guild has every intention of working to bring in any editorial group that wants to be unionized.
“We’re absolutely going to continue to represent as many people in this industry as possible,” Mohit said, “be it magazines, newspapers, legacy publications or digital start-ups.”
The NewsGuild already represents The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, which is going through its own digitally focused reorganization, as well as a number of magazines, including The New Republic, The Nation and Meredith Corp. titles People, Money, Fortune, Sports Illustrated and Time, the latter four of which are currently up for sale.
While it’s unclear how Condé Nast or Fast Company intends to deal with the new union efforts, voluntary recognition and bargaining is an option, as is actively working against unionization.
TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts decided last November to shut down local news outlets Gothamist and DNA Info soon after staffers voted to form a union and Los Angeles Times parent Tronc openly urged staffers to reject unionization. Tronc suddenly decided this year to sell off The Times to Nant Capital, owned by medical industry billionaire Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, although the $500 million deal is taking longer than expected to close. Meanwhile, Gothamist, without DNA Info, has been reborn with the help of local public radio stations WNYC, KPCC and WAMU, which in April acquired all of the site’s assets and relaunched.
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