Fortune’s newsroom is now entirely unionized.
Despite efforts by the magazine’s management to derail the union, including an immediate rejection of voluntary recognition and direct efforts by chief executive officer Alan Murray, a wide majority of digital staffers at the former Time Inc. title have again decided to join the NewsGuild. A forced vote by management and overseen by the National Labor Union Relations Board showed 87 percent of staff in favor of unionization, leaving no avenue but to begin talks with staffers and NewsGuild around a union contract.
“We look forward to joining the 41 percent of the staff already represented by the existing union agreement and working with management to agree on a contract that covers all editorial workers equally,” union members wrote in a statement.
NewsGuild echoed the sentiment, saying: “Under the new ownership of Fortune Media Group, we look forward to getting to the bargaining table to ensure the future of this iconic publication.”
A Fortune representative could not be immediately reached for comment.
Staffers went public with their organization efforts in late March, saying an “overwhelming majority” of Fortune’s 27-person online editorial staff had signed cards in support of unionization. Although 27 people may not sound like a large group, it actually makes up about 60 percent of Fortune’s editorial staff.
With such support, group leaders claimed “surprise” at management’s rejection of their effort. The print side of the magazine has been unionized for decades, with a bargaining contract still in place that was negotiated with management then under Time Inc.
Much has changed since then. Fortune has been sold twice, first to Meredith Corp., which snatched up Time Inc. in 2017 after years of vying for it, only to flip Fortune and a handful of other titles that didn’t fit in with its collection of prosaic lifestyle magazines.
After Salesforce billionaire Marc Benioff decided to buy only Time magazine, being said to have been initially interested in it and Fortune, Meredith found an unlikely buyer in Chatchaval Jiaravanon, heir to a Thai business empire with little to no exposure in media or U.S. business. He paid $150 million for the title and its related assets and franchises, most lucrative among them the Fortune 500 list and surrounding events.
It’s little wonder that the rest of Fortune’s staff would look to unionization after at least a year or so of professional uncertainty. Even before Meredith purchased Time Inc., the latter company had tried to cut its way to financial stability through years of layoffs. When Fortune’s digital side revealed the union effort, group leaders said it was simply an effort to “safeguard our rights as workers and sustain the magazine’s reputation going forward.”
Unlike management at the many other news and digital media organizations that have unionized in the last year or two, Fortune decided to take a hard line against organization. It seems the be the only outlet so far in the recent wave of media unionization to demand a NRLB vote, which is costly and essentially forces organizers to do outreach again.
Outlets like Refinery29, Quartz and Condé Nast titles such as The New Yorker, Pitchfork and Ars Technica were quick to voluntarily recognize staff organizing, but some others have dragged their feet or opposed unions outright. Management at Slate and podcasting company Gimlet, for example, fall into the latter category, as does management at BuzzFeed. Slate relented after more than a year of fighting and the threat of a strike, while Gimlet lawyers are allegedly taking up some “aggressive” tactics and BuzzFeed management has been hard-pressed to take time to meet with union leaders.
Regardless, Fortune’s business depends on its digital output as well as its events. When Meredith sold the title, a company spokesman said the $150 million price represented a 15x multiple of the brand’s earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization, a typical base to measure a company’s financial performance. That means the title only brings in around $10 million in EBITDA.
At the time of the purchase, Jiaravanon said with his investment in the title, “The outlook for further profitable growth is excellent both for the print publication and the events business.” Jiaravanon is said to have met with Fortune’s staff only once, during a trip to the New York headquarters in December not long after the acquisition.
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