June 6, 2019; Bloomberg
We didn’t hear much from Vox Media yesterday, the last scheduled day of their union negotiations with management. That’s because 300 members of their staff were on strike after 14 months of negotiations failed to produce a union contract.
The Twitter account @vox_union posted on Thursday:
Today‘s our last scheduled day of bargaining.@voxmediainc is still apart from us on:
– competitive wage scales
– strong guaranteed raises
– better severance
– subcontracting work
We’ve decided we’re not showing up to work today until we resolve these issues.
— Vox Media Union (@vox_union) June 6, 2019
Vox Media agreed that workers could unionize under the auspices of Writers Guild of America East in November 2017, and began negotiations two months later. They have yet to come to an agreement on a contract despite Vox Media Chief Executive Officer Jim Bankoff saying, “I couldn’t be more serious about reaching a fair and highly competitive agreement quickly.”
But it seems Bankoff is not quite committed enough to pay his staff what they need. He claims that Vox wages are more than competitive, and “while paying people a lot more than market wages sounds great on the surface, it’s not realistic or smart.”
The site Glassdoor.com lists several salaries for Vox positions, including about $54,000 for a News Editor, $57,557 for a Senior Reporter, and less than $50,000 for a staff writer. One reporter on Twitter said they made about $30,000 as a junior reporter and hoped no one else would have that experience. (While Glassdoor.com isn’t the same as official records, it can give a good idea of typical pay.) Most Vox Media jobs are based in New York or Washington DC, where the cost of living can make a $50,000 salary seem small.
The workers see four unresolved issues; salaries are one, but the union is also seeking an agreement on severance packages, guaranteed cost of living increases, and a plan for freelancers and contractors.
Vox Media is a large for-profit company that includes recognizable outlets such as Curbed, SB Nation, The Verge, and, of course, Vox. They host several successful podcasts such as The Weeds, The Ezra Klein Show, Kara Swisher’s Recode Decode, and even one about charity and philanthropy called Future Perfect.
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Bloomberg reports that 450 fellow union members declared their solidarity with Vox staff.
“Particularly as Vox Media expands further into television and film production, we call on the company to agree to a union contract that lives up to its status as a leader in this industry,” the film and TV workers said in their petition. The signers included writers from The L Word, Law & Order: SVU, and Silence of the Lambs, as well as The Wire creator David Simon and House of Cards developer Beau Willimon, WGAE’s current president.
The union account tweeted around 9pm last night, “Thanks for your support today. We’re still at the bargaining table, trying to get the fair deal we deserve. We’ll stick around as long as it takes. #ContractNow.”
It did appear that Vox was trying to maintain the appearance of normalcy. Their site didn’t cover their own strike, and articles were still being featured by their social accounts. DC Eater editor Tim Ebner tweeted, “FYI: @Eater_DC is rerunning old stories today, including one that I wrote a month ago. I am not a scab. I support the @Eater staff working to negotiate a fair wage and contract for the 335 members of the @vox_union. The time is now @Bankoff.”
Other publications, such as the Washington Post and the L.A. Times offered their support and sympathy to the striking workers and, of course, Bernie Sanders offered solidarity.
Jane Coaston, a terrific senior politics reporter who focuses on the far right, composed a thread that read:
[email protected] A fun thing I have learned recently is that I am one of four black senior writers in all of @voxmediainc.
This could mean one of two things. Either there are just four qualified black senior writers in the whole of America (which seems highly unlikely!) or offering hilariously low pay to hard-working journalists is not a terrific recruiting strategy.
The @vox_union is fighting for a fair contract that means workers in every location, from DC to remote employees, can make a fair — and competitive — wage, one that will attract even more terrific people to this company.
The Philadelphia Inquirer made the interesting point that a number of “new media” outlets have recently started to unionize, and it happens that the skills needed to build public support for a union dovetail nicely with the skills needed to build a following for one’s reporting on social media. “A campaign like this wouldn’t be effective without the kinds of employees who are adept at building and engaging a digital audience,” wrote Juliana Feliciano Reyes. “Buzzfeed Union, which has been fighting for almost four months to get its union recognized, has used similar social media tactics…Interestingly, the Washington Post’s labor reporter in 2015 said that it was exactly this quality—the emphasis on crafting an individual, personal brand—that explained, in part, why online journalists weren’t organizing.” NPQ reported recently that WBUR journalists successfully advocated for their unionization as well.
Thoughtful, knowledgeable reporters are the lifeblood of outlets like Vox, but perhaps with the recent layoffs in the media market, Bankoff and the other executives felt they had some leeway with how to treat their staff. Hopefully, they are about to be proven wrong.—Erin Rubin