Slate’s editorial and podcast staff has its first union agreement — it only took a year and a recent threat of a strike to get there.
The staff last week got to the bargaining table with management, which the 51-member union had accused publicly of using union-busting tactics, and legal representatives to avoid leading to a work strike in December. One of the central issues that led to the collective strike authorization was Slate management demanding a “right to work” clause — something of a misnomer as it prohibits unionized workplaces from requiring covered employees to pay union dues — be included in any bargaining agreement.
It seems management decided that unionized workers were better than no workers at all, as it agreed to a three-year agreement with its staff. The contract includes a number of new rights and benefits for the staff, like a minimum starting salary of $51,000, annual pay increases, rights to derivate works, or content based on an original work, as well as formal comp time and paid time off. Perhaps most importantly, the Slate union will now receive formal notice of layoffs and severance.
“Our contract is built on principles of equity and diversity,” the Slate bargaining committee wrote in a joint statement. “Management recognized our profound objections to a ‘right to work’ provision and honored our demand for a union shop. We will all pay our fair share for the protections we receive.”
The committee went on to note that it decided to launch a union campaign a year ago in large part because of its “profound love of Slate” and that they “felt so lucky to work with management last week to put our shared goals into action.”
Lowell Peterson, executive director of Writers Guild of America East, Slate’s chosen union representative, said Slate’s contract shows what “can be achieved through persistence and people power.”
Slate’s contract is one of the first to be ratified this year, but there are a string of other digital media staffs that have their own union processes going on. There’s scarcely a notable digital outlet left without union representation, showing the unease felt by media workers as the industry continues to morph around and struggle with the whims of the Internet.
Just last week, Refinery29 staffers took their unionization effort to management and the week before that Vice added 200 more members of editorial and production to its union — both are under WGAE — and just before that it was staffers at New York Magazine, who just lost longtime editor in chief Adam Moss, sparking a lot of talk of the publication’s future. Last year also saw Fast Co. gain voluntary recognition of an editorial union, as did permanent digital staff at The New Yorker, making it the only property under Condé Nast to have a bargaining unit as the company moves through corporate upheaval.
Earlier union efforts have included staffs at Vox Media, Gizmodo Media Group and HuffPost, among others, and all have cited some mix of job insecurity and a general feeling that workers were left out of decision-making that directly affects their work and future employment.