GETTING ORGANIZED: Leadership at Refinery29 seems to have no opposition to a unionized staff.
Editorial staff of the digital outlet, focused largely on Millennial women, took their union effort to management only two weeks ago, and already have won voluntary recognition. The organizing committee leading the union wrote in a statement that it’s “delighted” with the recognition, which is the first step toward negotiating a collective bargaining agreement.
“We decided to organize our workplace because we believe in our outlet’s mission: Women can live their fullest lives when they feel empowered, including in their workplaces,” the committee added. “We look forward to collaborating on a brighter future for Refinery29 and its employees. It has never been more clear that digital media is in need of unions, and the company has done the right thing in recognizing ours.”
Indeed, the new year is already off to a very rough start for media workers, as recent or imminent layoffs at the likes of BuzzFeed, Verizon Media and other outlets are expected to exceed 1,000 workers. Unionization has swept the digital media industry in the last 18 months or so, as investors tire of a lack of profitability and sudden layoffs become the norm when cost-cutting is demanded. With the support of unions like Writers Guild of America East, which represents Refinery29, and NewsGuild, staffers have some sense of security with things like layoff notices, and severance pay nearly always worked into collective bargaining agreements.
In a statement, Refinery29 management said it decided on voluntary recognition after discussions with WGAE, adding: “We are committed to working together to continue building a strong, supportive organization that provides a rewarding employee experience.”
Refinery29 has not been immune to the struggles digital media is facing, and last year decided to cut about 10 percent of its staff when it scaled back its video department. But cofounder Justin Stefano told WWD in December that the company is relatively stable and is still focused on growth, albeit in a direction away from strictly ad-supported revenue.
Nevertheless, as the union effort shows, Refinery29 staffers feel the need for outside assurance that they will have some kind of protection as the industry inevitably continues to shift. The outlet joins a number of recently unionized newsrooms and outlets — all of which seem to be dealing with their own challenges — including New York Magazine, Slate, Vice Media, Fast Co. and The New Yorker, among others.
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