Fortune’s digital edit staff is the latest to get organized.
The almost 90-year-old financial magazine, founded as part of Time Inc. and sold last year to Meredith Corp. only to be sold again within a year to Chatchaval Jiaravanon, heir to a Thai business empire, is now among the many digital newsrooms to look to unionization in the last year as they continue to face professional uncertainty.
Staffers are pushing for voluntary recognition with representation from NewsGuild in an effort to “safeguard our rights as workers and sustain the magazine’s reputation going forward,” according to a joint statement from union leaders. But Fortune management has already refused to recognize the bargaining unit.
“This is surprising to us, since an overwhelming majority of Fortune’s online editorial staff signed cards in support of unionizing, in addition to support petitions signed by NewsGuild members of both Fortune and Time magazines,” staffers wrote.
Fortune still has something of an editorial divide between print and digital staffs and output, but those on the print side are already unionized and have been so going back decades, with a contract negotiated while still a part of Time Inc. Moreover, digital staffers are asking to be recognized under the same union agreement that the rest of the staff is part of, and still management rejected recognition. Jake Meth, a Fortune editor, wrote on Twitter that there are only 27 eligible employees, but they make up 59 percent of the edit staff, pushing for union recognition.
“An overwhelming majority of our uncovered staff are in favor of unionizing,” Meth wrote. “But management has refused to meet with organizing employees and is insisting on a costly and unnecessary election.”
A representative of Fortune could not be immediately reached for comment.
Jiaravanon put down $150 million for Fortune and its related events business at the end of 2018, and while there have been no immediate changes since the purchase, staffers are expecting them. It’s unclear how hard management will push against the union — looking at other outlets, reaction has been mixed. Some, like Refinery29 and The New Yorker have been quick to voluntarily recognize staff organizing, while others have dragged their feet or opposed unions outright. Management at Slate and podcasting company Gimlet, for example, fall into the latter category. 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.
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. Meaning the title only brings in around $10 million in EBITDA, right now.
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.
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