Are Hearst Magazines executives switching tactics in the ongoing union battle?
Hundreds of staffers across 24 brands, including Cosmopolitan and Esquire, revealed their intention to unionize in November with the Writers Guild of America, East, but only on Tuesday did executives, who are yet to voluntarily recognize their efforts, finally sit down with the organizing committee.
Chief content officer Kate Lewis and her deputy Brooke Siegel initiated the meeting, according to a WGAE letter sent to staffers seen by WWD, in a move that could be viewed as a change in strategy as an election date approaches. That’s because it’s understood that the committee asked to meet with executives when they first revealed their union plans, but Lewis and her boss, Hearst Magazines president Troy Young, declined the invitation. Notably, though, Young was not present at this week’s meeting.
Instead, Hearst initially appeared to adopt a hard line, including setting up an anti-union web site. Eventually, relations between executives and the WGAE became so bad that the latter filed an unfair-labor-practice charge against the former with the National Labor Relations Board, which it is currently investigating. Among other methods, the charge accused executives of “unlawfully” engaging in surveillance of employees’ union activities and solicited, encouraged and provided assistance to employees to withdraw union authorization cards.
But at Tuesday’s meeting, which the WGAE described as “positive” on the whole, Lewis and Siegel stressed that whatever happens going forward, they see the entire workforce as partners in the company, and they “remain committed to that relationship no matter what.” Lewis also explained that the corporate floor has plans to deal with various issues at the company, which the union has previously stated include uncertainty around compensation packages, job remits and career paths.
For their part, committee members responded that the union’s agenda will be based on the priorities set by the workforce and will be the subject of its negotiations when it has a seat at the table with management. It also shared examples from contracts other unions have negotiated at other media outlets and made clear that it will all be working toward a contract that is beneficial to both the union and the company.
“Bargaining and ratifying a contract that guarantees working conditions and benefits will involve the participation of all of us across brands, through surveys, the election of the bargaining committee, and the vote to ratify a contract,” it said.
For now, the two sides are currently waiting for the NLRB, which gets to decide when an election happens since Hearst did not voluntarily recognize the union, to announce a date. Originally, the union had expected it to take place in January.
Hearst had been hoping that the NLRB wouldn’t let supervisors vote, as per an incoming April law, but the federal body ruled that they can prior to the change.
The NLRB still has to decide on the size and the number of bargaining units and also reveal the results of its investigation into claims of an already existing union.
Representatives for Hearst and the WGAE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.