Hearst Union Election Could Still Happen While Staffers Work From Home

The federal body that decides if and when a vote will take place halted elections due to the COVID-19, but will resume Monday.

Hearst headquarters in New York.

As the coronavirus exacerbates already existing pressures on the media sector, some journalists are looking to their unions for assistance.

But hundreds of staffers at Hearst Magazines titles including Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire and Esquire have been waiting since November to have their union election, which they need to be able to reach the bargaining table.

First, the publisher refused to acknowledge it, delaying the process. Then came the COVID-19 crisis, which threatened to push a decision further into the long grass as the National Relations Labor Board, the federal body charged with making a judgement on if and when a vote can take place since Hearst hadn’t acknowledged it, halted elections.

From Monday, though, Hearst staffers will have another chance at getting their vote while working from home as after assessing the situation, the NLRB plans to start holding union elections again, which could take place remotely.

“The board determined that a two-week suspension would provide the general counsel, who is the delegated authority to supervise the regional offices, which conduct elections on the board’s behalf, the opportunity to fully review the logistics of the election procedures in light of the unprecedented situation,” NLRB chairman John F. Ring said. “The general counsel now has advised that appropriate measures are available to permit elections to resume in a safe and effective manner.”

The Hearst Union Organizing Committee told WWD it is glad that the staff of the NLRB are able to return safely to carry out their essential work. “It is, indeed, imperative to safeguard all workers’ rights to organize. It is more important than ever for all workers to have a seat at the table to negotiate over their future,” a spokesman said.

A number of staffers at the likes of Vice Media, BuzzFeed, NBC Digital, Fortune Digital and Vox Media became unionized over the past couple of years during a particularly rough period of layoffs across the industry, which is now being exacerbated by the COVID-19 outbreak.

In the case of Hearst employees, they hope that unionizing with the the Writers Guild of America, East will help them address diversity, transparency, compensation and overall editorial standards. It will also allow them to have some sense of security over layoff notices and severance pay, which is nearly always worked into collective bargaining agreements.

“We organized our union in November 2019. We have gone through months of hearings and deliberations at the NLRB after Hearst Magazines refused to recognize the decision of a clear majority of its editorial staff to form a union,” the Hearst Union Organizing Committee spokesman said.

“It is time, finally, for us to certify our union and get to the bargaining table to address all of the issues that brought us together. Given the extraordinary circumstances of this public health crisis, we support a fair, quick election via secure and safe remote voting,” he added.

A representative for the NLRB declined to comment on timings of its decision on the Hearst election.

For more, see:

Coronavirus Pressure on Media Spreads From Alt-Weeklies to Digital News Outlets, Magazines

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