I would like to report reasons for hope. Collective action is not only possible in the face of an economy in transformation; it is effective.
In the last year, writers, editors, producers and other content creators at “digital native” companies Gawker, VICE, Salon.com, ThinkProgress and The Huffington Post have all won representation with the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE). These innovative, mostly younger professionals want a voice in shaping their work lives, and they recognize that collective bargaining is a vital way to engage in the decisions that affect how they work and how that work is valued.
Our union understood that it was essential for us to listen as well as lead, at every stage. We found that the digital media content creators did not necessarily share the same aspirations and experiences as people who work in more established parts of the media industry. From the outset, we implemented meaningful and successful organizing campaigns founded on what the employees actually want.
The WGAE convened town halls and one-on-one meetings, conducted surveys, recruited engaged and energetic bargaining committees and maintained close communication with the people who came to us for representation. Our job was to translate the new members’ goals and their enthusiasm into workable bargaining proposals and ongoing methods of involvement. This thorough, bottom-up process has been absolutely necessary to mobilize people and to identify what they want to accomplish through collective bargaining.
What have we learned? These men and women have concrete economic concerns — it is extremely difficult to make ends meet in places like New York and D.C. earning $40,000 a year, which was distressingly common at some digital companies before unionization.
One year in, we can proudly say that unionization is bringing tangible results to people working in digital media.
Prospective union members want greater transparency on the job. They want explicit, understandable rules about pay and benefits and other aspects of work, rather than obscure, improvised or arbitrary shifts in policy and practice.
They want to enhance and expand editorial independence, to be able to follow stories where they lead without fear that immediate commercial concerns would diminish the legitimacy and quality of their work. And they want to build real careers doing the work they enjoy and find meaningful.
The WGAE has already negotiated collective bargaining agreements with three of the companies organized in the last year — Gawker, VICE and ThinkProgress — winning important economic gains (for example, a 39 percent compensation increase at VICE), locking in health and other benefits that previously were changeable at management’s whim and crafting important provisions to protect the independence of editorial work from conflicting business imperatives.
Perhaps most important, these agreements have given the people who create digital content a meaningful, ongoing role in the decisions that affect their work lives.
We expect to bring similar gains to the union-represented employees at The Huffington Post and Salon.com, where negotiations continue.
The new digital members join a community of creative professionals, including people who write for television (both scripted and nonfiction/”reality”), radio, the big screen and digital media. They create news, comedy, drama, documentaries and public affairs programs. Like the content-creators in digital-native companies, all of our members are dedicated to their work and share a passion for crafting compelling stories, whether for information or entertainment (or both), whether serious or satirical (or both).
One year in, we can proudly say that unionization is bringing tangible results to people working in digital media. We have always prided ourselves as being a place of both cultural and economic solidarity; a place where creators come together to talk about their craft, to socialize and network and to organize and negotiate to improve their working conditions. We have made progress together because we are stronger together.