Commentary

Hearst Creates Microsite With Anti-Union Talking Points

Hearst Magazines created a micrositeaimed at employees who have either voted to unionize or are thinking about it. The site isn't likely to change anyone's mind, given its unconvincing arguments against unionization.

A majority of 500 Hearst employees who are eligible to unionize last month voted to join the Writers Guild of America, East. Their significant numbers will make Hearst's employee union one of the biggest in the media industry. The guild has more than 4,700 members and is working on expanding among digital publishers like Vice, Vox Media and G/O Media.

The vote to unionize was momentous, given Hearst's scale, which includes 24 print and online publications, such as Cosmopolitan, Country Living, Elle, Esquire, Good Housekeeping, Harper's Bazaar, Men's Health, The Oprah Magazine and Popular Mechanics.

Hearst management clearly isn't happy about the vote, arguing that a union isn't right for employees at a "stable business" that's "not reliant on venture-capital firms or the whims of investors," according to its microsite.

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The company also claims a union won't necessarily represent the best interests of employees, will charge onerous fees and may take years to negotiate an employment contract. Union members also won't be eligible to participate in Hearst's pension plan.

Hearst says its stability argues against unionization, but that's unlikely to appease workers who don't share that sense of security. Everyone in publishing has seen workers get cut, ad pages dwindle, magazines shut down and advertisers flee for the greener pastures of Google, Facebook and Amazon.

Financial insecurity is particularity acute among millennials, who came of age during the Great Recession and the Occupy Movement that highlighted growing economic inequality. Overwhelming student debt, limited career growth and heightened competition for jobs held by baby boomers who can't afford to retire may explain some of their economic insecurities.

For Hearst employees, joining the Writer's Guild won't change the fundamentals of a business model that's under siege from digital rivals. However, workers may feel more empowered to express their discontents with company management by collectivizing their efforts.

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