Your Favorite Podcast May Soon Be Union as Gimlet Media Becomes First in the Industry to Organize

Julianne Tveten

Staff at Gimlet Media have made history by becoming the first at a podcast company to unionize. (THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Last week, the 83-mem­ber pro­duc­tion staff of audio media com­pa­ny Gim­let Media announced its union­iza­tion with the Writ­ers Guild of Amer­i­ca, East (WGAE). The move marks the first instance of union­iza­tion at a pod­cast­ing company. 

Accord­ing to a state­ment from the Gim­let Union Orga­niz­ing Com­mit­tee, which shep­herd­ed the union dri­ve, the union will con­sist of cre­ative-staff mem­bers includ­ing pro­duc­ers, engi­neers, hosts, edi­tors, and reporters.” The union has asked Gim­let man­age­ment, which will not be includ­ed in the union, to vol­un­tar­i­ly rec­og­nize the Guild as its col­lec­tive-bar­gain­ing representative.

Among oth­er goals, the union will seek trans­paren­cy in pay and advance­ment struc­tures, improved pro­tec­tions for con­tract­ed work­ers, con­crete and ambi­tious” diver­si­ty ini­tia­tives, equi­table intel­lec­tu­al-prop­er­ty poli­cies and greater employ­ee involve­ment in com­pa­ny deci­sion-mak­ing processes.

A lot of peo­ple had been ask­ing man­age­ment about [these issues] for a long time, bring­ing [them] up both pri­vate­ly and pub­licly at all-staff meet­ings,” Drew Nelles, a senior pro­duc­er and union orga­niz­ing com­mit­tee mem­ber at Gim­let, told In These Times. We just reached a point where we felt that in order to see the move­ment on those issues that we desired, it was time to start think­ing about col­lec­tive action.”

Known for a num­ber of nar­ra­tive pod­casts, includ­ing Start­Up, Reply All, and Crime­town, the ven­ture-cap­i­tal-fund­ed Gim­let has seen expo­nen­tial growth since its 2014 incep­tion. The most recent report­ed fig­ures show that, as of last sum­mer, the com­pa­ny employed over 110 peo­ple.

Amidst this expan­sion, it was just clear that things at the com­pa­ny were chang­ing,” Nelles added. There was a group of us who felt that hav­ing some kind of col­lec­tive voice, hav­ing a seat at the table, would make the most sense for the pro­duc­tion-side employ­ees at the com­pa­ny.” Nelles said infor­mal talks of union­iza­tion began last sum­mer, and assem­bly of the com­mit­tee fol­lowed in November.

In Feb­ru­ary, dig­i­tal music-stream­ing giant Spo­ti­fy acquired Gim­let, along with pod­cast-pub­lish­ing plat­form Anchor. (Nelles said orga­niz­ing efforts began before the com­mit­tee was aware of acqui­si­tion plans.) The shift in own­er­ship may pose a chal­lenge for the future of the union, as oth­er out­lets such as Fast Com­pa­ny and Vul­ture have not­ed. The tech indus­try has a record of anti-union maneu­ver­ing, and recent col­lec­tive-bar­gain­ing dri­ves at such major tech firms as Tes­la and Ama­zon have been met with hostility.

In response to the union­iza­tion announce­ment, Gim­let told In These Times: We con­firm we have received a for­mal notice from the WGAE union and plan to review. We have noth­ing fur­ther to report at this time.” Spo­ti­fy has not respond­ed to In These Times’ request for comment.

We don’t know exact­ly what [the future] is going to look like because [the acqui­si­tion] wasn’t some­thing that we knew about when we start­ed this effort,” Nelles said. But I would say we’re all pret­ty confident…I would say, right now, we don’t yet have any rea­son to be pes­simistic about a heavy hand com­ing down from the head cor­po­rate office.”

Some of this con­fi­dence stems from the prece­dents of oth­er trade unions, which pro­vid­ed guid­ance for the committee’s efforts to align with the WGAE. Accord­ing to Nelles, the Gim­let staff is made up of vet­er­ans of pub­lic radio, film, tele­vi­sion and oth­er areas of media that have achieved wide­spread col­lec­tive-bar­gain­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tion, often with the Writ­ers Guild.

Fur­ther bol­ster­ing the union’s prospects is a spate of dig­i­tal-news orga­ni­za­tions whose edi­to­r­i­al offices have recent­ly union­ized. Since 2017, Vox Media, Giz­mo­do Media Group, the Huff­in­g­ton Post, Vice Media and oth­er orga­ni­za­tions have secured rep­re­sen­ta­tion under the Writ­ers Guild, while out­lets includ­ing Buz­zFeed, New York Mag­a­zine, and the Los Ange­les Times have union­ized with the News­Guild. What’s more, Vox, the Huff­in­g­ton Post, and numer­ous oth­er news out­lets have sig­nif­i­cant pod­cast divi­sions, fur­ther bridg­ing the gap between pod­casts and writ­ten media when it comes to union rep­re­sen­ta­tion. (In 2014, In These Times staff union­ized with the NewsGuild.)

This may also bode well for edi­to­r­i­al con­trac­tors, who are Gim­let-union-eli­gi­ble. Con­tract work­ers were an active part of the orga­niz­ing cam­paign from the begin­ning, Nelles said, with one con­trac­tor serv­ing on the 10-per­son union orga­niz­ing com­mit­tee. Accord­ing to Buz­zFeed News, tem­po­rary work­ers began to nego­ti­ate for more ben­e­fits over the sum­mer. Orga­niz­ing com­mit­tee mem­bers hope these efforts will improve the rights of con­tract work­ers — who are typ­i­cal­ly deprived of ben­e­fits like employ­er-sub­si­dized health­care and paid time off — in the dig­i­tal-media realm. 

Whether the union dri­ve sim­i­lar­ly influ­ences Spo­ti­fy work­ers has yet to be seen, but Nelles has seen sup­port­ive chat­ter” on work­place mes­sage boards.

The union still awaits recog­ni­tion from Gim­let man­age­ment, and accord­ing to Nelles, the Writ­ers Guild’s and Gimlet’s coun­sels are cur­rent­ly in dis­cus­sions. With the union’s fate in lim­bo, Nelles’ and the orga­niz­ing committee’s expec­ta­tions remain high. We’re all real­ly excit­ed, and it’s been in the works for sev­er­al months, and it’s nice to now be able to be pub­lic about it,” Nelles said. We’re def­i­nite­ly opti­mistic that we will get to recog­ni­tion soon one way or another.”

Julianne Tveten writes about tech­nol­o­gy, labor, and cul­ture, among oth­er top­ics. Her work has appeared in The Nation, Cap­i­tal & Main, KPFK Paci­fi­ca Radio, and elsewhere.
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