The 2019 trend of newsrooms unionizing shows no sign of running out of steam as a new year begins.
The latest is Sports Illustrated, with the majority of its staff revealing today that they intend to form a union with the NewsGuild of New York and are demanding voluntary recognition from its new operator, Seattle-based media distribution company Maven.
The move comes after a tumultuous past nine months for one of the most iconic names in sports media, beginning in May when apparel-focused Authentic Brands Group paid Meredith Corp. $110 million for the title.
That deal allowed the latter to continue to operate the magazine and web site for at least two years, but just three weeks later, there was another change as ABG farmed out operations to Maven in a $45 million licensing agreement.
Maven wasted no time making cuts, instructing Meredith to lay off more than 40 staffers as part of the sale — a move employees believe puts the future of the publication at risk.
“Decisions made by new management over the last few months have put SI’s reputation and long-term health at risk. The October layoffs at Maven’s direction gutted our newsroom. Two dozen employees who lost their jobs were women or people of color, leaving us less representative of the world we cover,” staff said today in an open letter to management.
“Moreover, Maven’s directive to launch a network of team reporters on SI’s platforms without sufficient vetting or editorial oversight has already resulted in errors that severely undermine our credibility,” the letter added.
It’s not surprising then that staffers cited issues like job security, severance and layoff protections, pay equity, workplace safety, diversity in hiring and advancement, and a voice in editorial strategy as the driving factors behind their decision to unionize.
The new bargaining unit includes about 80 writers, editors, producers, and other editorial staff in print, digital, and video, adding up to around 90 percent of employees. A smaller number of print staff of the magazine were previously represented by the NewsGuild under former owner Meredith.
Susan DeCarava, president of The NewsGuild of New York, which also represents staffers from the likes of The New York Times and Buzzfeed, said: “Employees with a contractually protected voice in their workplace are invested in the future of their publication. We stand together in urging management to demonstrate trust in their staff and respect for this iconic publication by swiftly recognizing the union.”
While Maven’s response is unknown for now, as a spokesperson did not immediately respond to request for comment, staffers will no doubt be hoping that it will be an easier process than over at Hearst Tower.
There, Hearst Magazines employees announced their intention to unionize in November, but executives were quick to adopt a hard line. This has resulted in the Hearst Magazine Media Union filing for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board. It has yet to make a decision and is currently looking into claims that there is an already existing union.
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