The 83-person staff of Gimlet Media, a podcasting startup acquired by music streaming service Spotify for $230 million in February, is unionizing with the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE).
Gimlet was founded in 2014 and produces popular podcasts including Reply All, StartUp, and Crimetown.
“As Spotify’s reported $230 million acquisition of Gimlet makes clear, however, Gimlet is no longer the small, scrappy operation memorably documented on the first season of StartUp,” the Gimlet organizing committee wrote in a statement published Wednesday. “Our union is an expression of passion for what we do, and a proactive effort to work with management to shape the future of the company. It’s important for us to solidify the things that make Gimlet a great place to work, and to address whatever issues may arise.”
Among the issues Gimlet’s union says it plans to focus on are fair treatment of contractors, workplace diversity, employee intellectual property, and transparency around pay, promotions, and termination.
Employees, 75% of whom signed union cards in support of the organizing campaign, are asking management to voluntarily recognize their union, which they say will include content creation roles such as producers, engineers, reporters, and hosts on both the branded and editorial sides of the company. The union will not include managers or sales and marketing staff.
In a wave of media labor organizing over the last year, companies including the New Yorker and New York magazine voluntarily recognized employee unions, while other efforts, such as the Los Angeles Times employees’ successful National Labor Relations Board election, have been more contentious. Gimlet is now owned by a public tech company, though, and union drives within the tech industry are much less common. Still, companies including Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Salesforce have seen increasing employee activism over political issues and working conditions.
A spokesperson for Gimlet said the company has “received a formal notice from the WGAE union and plan to review” but had “nothing further to report at this time."
(Disclosure: BuzzFeed News employees formed a union with the NewsGuild of New York earlier this year.)
The WGAE, which represents a number of other digital media properties, including Vox, Vice, HuffPost, and Gizmodo Media Group, said Gimlet is the first podcasting company to join the union.
“Podcasting is one of the most exciting new media platforms for storytelling and Gimlet is at the forefront of creating compelling content,” WGAE executive director Lowell Peterson said in a press release. ”We welcome the people in this field into our Guild, where we will work to ensure they are afforded rights and protections like those won by other content creators working in film, television, news and new media.”
Spotify, which is primarily known as a music streaming service, also acquired a podcasting technology company called Anchor last month, signaling the company’s interest in producing more original content. When the company went public in April 2018, it was valued at $26 billion.
Spotify completed its acquisition of Gimlet earlier this month, and while Gimlet will continue to operate as a stand-alone unit, the two companies are beginning to merge operations. While Gimlet employees said their organizing campaign predated the acquisition announcement, they feel the union will help ensure Spotify considers employee input during the transition.
“A lot of the benefits we were hoping Gimlet would codify and put in a contract, Spotify offers those benefits and then some. They’re often a little more generous in that particular area, but the same concerns we had still exist,” said Gimlet host and producer Eric Eddings. “It is a complicated field, and it’s a new field, and it’s moving really, really fast. And so it became immediately clear to a lot of the employees that we need to have a voice in that process.”
“The union feels like a really good solve for figuring out how to represent the interests of employee voices, and get a seat at the table with executives at Gimlet, and the team at Spotify,” said Gimlet executive producer and host Rachel Ward.
A spokesperson for Spotify didn’t respond to a request for comment before publication.
Members of the Gimlet organizing committee told BuzzFeed News that, in the past, management has been receptive to efforts to improve working conditions. Over the summer, employees said contract workers working on a temporary basis successfully negotiated for more benefits from the company, including paid time off.
“Even before we even started organizing more broadly across the company, contractors had been organizing for a while around our own issues,” said Soraya Shockley, a contract worker at Gimlet. “By having a union that includes contractors … we hope to continue to push the industry forward on contracting issues.”
The issue of contract labor has been raised elsewhere in the technology industry of late. Employee activists at Google who staged a walkout late last year over a lack of consequences for workplace sexual misconduct have been advocating for the company to address the working conditions for contractors at Google, where more than half of the workforce is made up of contractors.
Unionized tech workers are a rarity, though, which means Gimlet employees who are joining Spotify will be in a unique position in the industry.
“This is the perfect time,” said Eddings. “If you’re re-envisioning the entire company … who better to have a say in how best to do that than the employees who have to execute it?”