Business of News

Slate staffers, in vote to unionize, call for commitment to diversity

March 16, 2017

The majority of editorial staff at Slate have voted to unionize with the Writers Guild of America, East. More than 90 percent of Slate’s editorial staff have signed cards and are calling upon Slate’s management, and parent company the Graham Holdings Company, to voluntarily recognize the Guild as their collective bargaining representative, according to a statement issued today by the Slate Unionizing Committee. Among calls for protections around salary, benefits, termination, and severance, staffers say they want to hold management accountable to increasing diversity in the Slate newsroom.

A lack of diversity is a problem in newsrooms across the US, and a recent report by CJR found that many newsrooms are unwilling to engage with the subject. While diversity numbers may be improving, they still aren’t representative of the communities they serve. “We believe that formalizing a commitment to an improved and more inclusive hiring process will help us build a better magazine and live up to our principles,” the statement reads.

Jason Gordon, director of communications for WGAE, says that many of the collective bargaining agreements the Guild has worked out for digital newsrooms in recent years make diversity an issue. “They’re all looking at ways to make sure that their staffs are diverse, that they can see as many points of view, and hear from as many different voices, to reach as wide of an audience as possible,” he says. “Since we first organized Gawker Media, this has been something that is very important to every shop we’ve been to.”

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The news of Slate’s vote to unionize comes after layoffs hit Slate’s editorial staff last month. Five staffers were laid off, including two who were active leaders of the union drive. The layoffs left some staff members feeling demoralized. In its statement, the Slate Unionizing Committee also listed termination, disciplinary actions, and severance as areas of concern: “We want to ensure that we have fair and appropriate protections and processes in place if layoffs are to occur again. We seek to establish transparent standards and procedures around discipline and termination that will ensure that all workers are treated equally and respectfully.”

Slate is the latest in a series of digital news outlets who have voted to unionize, joining the ranks of The Huffington Post, Vice, Gizmodo Media Group (formerly Gawker Media), Fusion, The Root, ThinkProgress, Salon, and MTV News, who are all represented by WGAE. Last month staffers at both MTV News and Thrillist voted to unionize; however, while MTV was quick to recognize the union, Thrillist’s parent company still hasn’t done so. If management refuses to voluntarily recognize a union card check, it can demand a formal vote conducted by secret ballot. If the majority of employees vote for the union in the secret ballot, management must recognize the union.

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In June 2016, editorial staff at another Graham Holdings Company outlet, Foreign Policy magazine, voted to unionize with the Washington-Baltimore NewsGuild. According to a company statement published by the guild, Foreign Policy agreed to “recognize the union and negotiate a labor agreement through the process of good faith collective bargaining.”

Slate management say they do not have a comment at this time.

Read the Slate Unionizing Committee’s full statement.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to more clearly reflect the difference between a card check and a formal vote to unionize by secret ballot.

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Shelley Hepworth , formerly a CJR Delacorte Fellow, is Technology Editor at The Conversation in Australia. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymiranda.