We Got Stood Up

The BuzzFeed News Union had a three-hour meeting scheduled today at noon with BuzzFeed’s HR and legal teams to continue discussing recognition of our bargaining unit. Five minutes after the meeting was supposed to start, we got an email from HR head Lenke Taylor saying BuzzFeed management was not going to show up.

This left Albert, Rachel, Julia R., Julia M., and Dom sitting in a conference room at the NewsGuild offices, along with our NewsGuild organizer and lawyer. Some of us had taken the day off for this meeting. It’s shocking to be stood up like this.

This meeting was a crucial opportunity to make progress in agreeing on a bargaining unit, after weeks of frustratingly slow communication with BuzzFeed. We’ve been ready to find solutions that work for everyone involved, and after our last meeting, we were optimistic that the company was ready too. Instead, they abandoned today’s negotiations.

The first step in unionizing is going public, which we did more than seven weeks ago. The second step is when the company voluntarily recognizes that union — which they must do before we can begin negotiating a contract. The fact that we still haven’t been recognized is extremely unusual, and far exceeds the 21-day average it has taken media companies to voluntarily recognize their unions in recent years, according to our analysis. This is clear union-busting.

The biggest sticking point has been the company’s opposition to an “editorial unit” — a recognition of the newsroom as a whole, rather than a list of specific titles. Recognizing an editorial unit is the industry standard across digital and print newsrooms and is a part of all NewsGuild contracts, from the New York Times, Daily Beast, Los Angeles Times, and New Yorker. We were ready to further discuss this issue, along with which employees should be included in the union, with management at today’s meeting.

An editorial unit is not just a technicality. If the company is able to define the union as a collection of individual titles, it will weaken the union by allowing BuzzFeed to easily exclude people by changing titles or adding new ones — especially given that employees’ external and internal titles are often inconsistent, and we haven’t been able to agree on which we’re using in negotiations. Refusing to recognize an editorial unit will also hurt our newsroom, inhibiting collaboration and flexibility. This is the last thing we want for our union.

The company is also trying to exclude BuzzFeed News staffers who work on shows, and those who edit writing (even though some of them are not managers/supervisors). Again, we are ready to talk.

Lenke’s email this afternoon canceling our meeting attempted to blame us. She said that because we wanted to discuss an editorial unit, we "no longer intended to operate within the framework" discussed at our last meeting on March 21. This is false. We have truly made every effort to negotiate in good faith. Most recently, we provided the company with a seven-page analysis of which disputed positions we believe should be protected by a union contract, and why. In a follow-up email later this afternoon, Lenke said that BuzzFeed is “not terminating discussions,” but that’s not the message they sent today. We showed up to our meeting fully intending to engage with management to resolve our differences of opinion and to hear their concerns. Management did not.  

Unionizing is increasingly the status quo for our industry. But BuzzFeed is choosing a path of avoidance and delays. It does not have to be this way.

We’ve repeatedly asked Jonah Peretti and Ben Smith to join us in these negotiations and take an interest in what their employees are fighting for. Thus far, they have declined to attend any negotiating meetings. Jonah has said that Ben is in charge, and Ben has deferred to the company’s lawyers. But we must be clear: Jonah and Ben have the power to fix this now by recognizing our union as an editorial unit and negotiating a fair contract.