Staffers at New York magazine on Wednesday morning asked management to voluntarily recognize an editorial union, becoming the latest media company to push for collective bargaining in an increasingly unstable industry climate.
Organizers said that about 80% of roughly 160 eligible editorial employees had signed union cards indicating their support. The bargaining group is made up of print and digital staffers, including writers, editors, producers, copy editors, fact checkers, and other non-managers at the magazine and its digital verticals — the Cut, Vulture, Intelligencer, Grub Street, and Strategist.
New York magazine joins a growing list of organizing efforts in the digital media industry in recent years, at outlets such as Gizmodo Media Group, Vice, the Guardian, HuffPost, the New Yorker, Vox Media, and others. This week, writers and editors at Slate voted to authorize a potential strike amid negotiations between editorial employees and management. (Staffers at BuzzFeed News are not unionized, and BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti has for years argued that unionization would not be right for BuzzFeed employees.)
The New York magazine unionization effort, organized through the NewsGuild of New York, comes as the magazine’s parent company, New York Media, explores a possible sale, the Wall Street Journal reported in August. The magazine was purchased for $55 million in 2003 by investment banker Bruce Wasserstein, who died in 2009. His daughter, Pam Wasserstein, is now CEO of New York Media.
New York magazine organizers say they are pushing for better pay, which they say is unequal and below industry standard for some roles. They are also seeking more transparency about job roles and responsibilities, better health care and retirement benefits, and more newsroom diversity.
“The fact that the industry itself is moving back to collective bargaining is thrilling to me,” said Rebecca Traister, a writer-at-large for New York magazine and the Cut. “This is what creates more stability and security for workers.”
In an email to staff Wednesday afternoon, New York magazine editor-in-chief Adam Moss said, "We plan to work with the union and hope we can get to voluntary recognition pretty soon."
New York magazine has been something of a success story in traditional print media thanks to a digital emphasis that has seemed to insulate it from some of the difficulties faced by other print titles in recent years. The magazine’s print edition moved from weekly to every other week in 2014.
Like many media outlets, including BuzzFeed News, New York magazine has recently pushed into new streams of revenue as the wider industry contends with the all-encompassing advertising market dominance of Facebook and Google. In November, New York Media announced the institution of a paywall for its suite of verticals.
Union organizing conversations began more than a year ago, organizers said, well before the paywall and sale rumors. But discussions picked up steam through the summer and fall, with organizers recognizing that a union could help the newsroom have a seat at the table should new ownership trigger internal tumult or layoffs, a growing reality across digital newsrooms.
“In general, it shows that this is an industry where something can change overnight,” said Nate Jones, a staff writer at Vulture, New York magazine’s entertainment site. “You look at all these other outlets, and they wake up one morning and what they thought was true is now completely gone.”
It’s unclear how much opposition staffers at New York Media might face internally — or whether management might seek to drag out the process while it considers sale options.
The company seems to have anticipated the effort. Splinter reported in September that the magazine had hosted a “union-busting meeting for top managers,” which a company spokesperson described at the time as a “training session for managers about how the labor law works, and what discussions it allows and restricts between managers and employees should future efforts come up at New York Media.”
“I have every reason to expect that this will be greeted warmly, and I would be very shocked if it weren’t,” Traister said.
Below is the union’s mission statement, sent to management Wednesday morning:
New York Magazine is a New York City institution and an essential voice in American journalism. We, the editorial staff, are proud to work at such a prestigious publication, and we want to ensure that New York Media continues to excel while valuing the contributions of all of its employees for years to come.
The New York brand is built upon the hard work of editors, writers, fact checkers, copy editors, photo editors, designers, producers, and social-media editors. Whether about culture, politics, fashion, or food, our reporting is consistently smart and engaging and is not afraid to question power. As the company grows, we believe our workplace should embody those values.
Currently, editorial staff members are often forced to choose between continuing the work they love at New York and finding a more tenable job elsewhere. For years, some employees have been paid well below media standards. Benefits constantly change and don’t meet our actual needs. Salaries vary significantly between people who hold the same position, and career development is either nonexistent or inadequate. Across the board, employees know the best chance to earn a raise or promotion is to get a job offer elsewhere. All of this only exacerbates an already troubling lack of diversity in our Newsroom.
The precarity of our industry is well known, and job security is always an issue. We all feel enormous pride and investment in our positions here. But of course, pride and prestige do not on their own bring stability. We need that too.
To safeguard our rights as workers and sustain the magazine’s voice into the future, we have decided to form a union with the NewsGuild, which represents our peers at outlets that are producing some of today’s most important and vital journalism, such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Associated Press, and The Nation — and including newly unionized publications like The New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times, the ChicagoTribune, and The New Republic.
We believe that unionizing is the best way to address our grievances in the workplace and allow us to continue publishing stories as honest, gritty, and exceptional as this city. We hope that New York Media will recognize our union so that we can begin an amicable collective-bargaining process and build a stronger, more equitable company for another 50 years.