The labor movement, in which workers are represented by unions, has long since faded from the American economy. Despite some remaining bastions, many wage workers have come to embrace the “right-to-work” philosophy and view unions as a negative force.
But that’s not true in journalism.
Over the last six or so years, many media companies have unionized, including the digital brands HuffPost, Salon, Slate, Ziff Davis, Pitchfork, Wirecutter, Vox Media, BuzzFeed, Wired, the New Yorker, the now-defunct Gawker, and others, including many newspaper newsrooms.
According to the NewsGuild, the largest union representing newspaper, magazine and other news-oriented organizations, set a record in 2021, with 2,128 workers at 42 workplaces forming unions.
This number far exceeds the Guild’s performance in recent years. In 2020, 1,354 workers joined unions. In 2019, the number was 1,499. And it was under 500 workers from 2015 to 2017.
According to the NewsGuild, workers unionized at these places in 2021:
The Writer’s Guild, a separate union representing both freelance and staff writers across television, film, radio and the internet, is also experiencing a growth spurt. It reported five new contracts reported in December alone. In one of them, Vice Media agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement with the Writers Guild’s Eastern chapter that consolidates the company’s four previous union contracts into one agreement. The new three-year collective bargaining agreement was ratified on Dec. 17 by Vice’s 160-member bargaining unit, the Guild announced.
The Writer’s Guild, founded in 1954, is a unit of the AFL-CIO and has over 6,000 members, according to its website. The NewsGuild, a unit of the Communications Workers of America, is composed of 46 U.S. locals and 17 Canadian locals. It was founded in 1933. NewsGuild workplaces run the gamut from large cities to small communities, according to the NewsGuild’s website, and include Chicago, Philadelphia and Indianapolis, side by side with Terre Haute, Indiana; Utica, New York; and Eugene, Oregon.
The NewsGuild also organized 16 non-media workplaces in 2021, according to a report by the Poynter Institute. Poynter also noted that in 2021, several large newsrooms — those with upwards of 100 employees — unionized. They included Insider, Politico, Forbes and The Atlantic. Units at all four of those brands joined the NewsGuild, while the 322-person MSNBC union joined the Writer’s Guild.
But unionizing doesn’t always work and can be a high-risk endeavor for workers, who can be exposed to retaliation. In March, employees at the online publishing platform Medium came within one vote of forming a union, but failed in their effort.