Gawker Media unionized yesterday with the Writers Guild of America. In solidarity, congratulations.
As expected, the unionization process has been highly visible. Gawker staff debated the merits of the union publicly, and were encouraged to do so. The vote drew out commentary from high-profile labor advocates, like former New York Times labor reporter Steven Greenhouse and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. And there’s been plenty of commentary about how Gawker’s the first “digital-first” newsroom to unionize (ahem, Truthout).
The overwhelming support of unionization at Gawker – 80 voted for the union, 27 voted against – represents both a significant PR victory for unions and a certain maturation of new media. As Greenhouse wrote in a column for the LA Times, the vote shows that “unions, which have focused in recent years on organizing low-wage workers, can also attract hip, highly educated workers, many of them Ivy League graduates.” Online media outlets have, until now, been structured more like tech companies than traditional media enterprises, offering employees generous benefits, flexibility and competitive salaries to make a union seem unnecessary. With Gawker unionizing, new media may be moving towards an acceptance of unionized workplaces. (In These Times unionized last summer with the Communications Workers of America.)
Gawker, as many employees have noted, is a fairly happy workplace. In his post announcing the union drive, and in a conversation with In These Times, writer Hamilton Nolan was emphatic about his and his co-workers’ satisfaction with their jobs. The union drive, according to its leaders, is as much about the philosophical and political belief that all workplaces need a union as it is about any specific workplace disputes.
Management didn’t seem to offer any resistance to unionization. Nick Denton, Gawker Media founder and CEO, claimed to be “intensely relaxed” about the process. In a joint press release from Gawker Media and the Writers Guild of America announcing that Gawker would be deciding to unionize through a secret-ballot vote, the Guild stated their reason for bypassing the traditional process of union authorization because “the cumbersome and often fractious process of unionization is premised on an assumption of complete antagonism between management and labor. Nothing of the kind exists at Gawker Media.”
What’s unique about Gawker’s union drive isn’t management’s willingness to allow it to happen. There is – and always has been and always will be – friction and disagreement between labor and management, at Gawker as anywhere else. The unionization process tends to bring to the fore the specifics of those disputes. While most of those in opposition to the union seem to base their “no” votes on the strain of the process, the comment thread on this post show that people are arguing, vehemently. As Max Read points out, “I think more than anything [the union drive] just brought some long-simmering tensions to the front burner.”
That’s what’s so remarkable about Gawker’s organizing effort. Gawker, in doing this so publicly, is providing the rest of us, those of us who haven’t gone through a unionization process in particular, the public service of showing us what happens when you organize. It’s tense, it’s difficult, there’s opposition and disagreement. And if this exchange between Joel Johnson, the ex-editorial director at Gawker, and Nick Denton is any indication, there are plenty more “long-simmering tensions” to unearth.
Let’s hope they continue to be as transparent throughout the contract negotiations.