‘They want enough money to keep the fight going’: New York’s top media union clashes over cash
The New York NewsGuild has sparked a wave of unionization in journalism, after organizing more than three dozen in print, digital and broadcast stores, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down. In recent years, the breakdown of the Guild organization has resulted in the unionization of workplaces from BuzzFeed News to Mashable to Insider; of Time, New York magazine, and The New Yorker at Fortune, Forbes, and the Before; of Illustrated sports, NBC News Digital and the Daily News at the New Republic, People, Pitchfork, Quartz and various others. NewsGuild of New York’s members include more influential and leading national media outlets than any other local chapter, making them a particularly powerful force in the growing media labor movement. But with new conquests in sight, the Guild is now strapped for cash. A blunt proposal to increase dues to alleviate the deficit put the union leadership, led by the president, Susan DeCarava, at odds with members of the two traditional department stores that pay its bills: Reuters and The New York Times.
“I am deeply uncomfortable with the way Susan and the Executive Council pursued this and the questions raised about our current organizing strategy,” Time journalist Michael powell wrote in an email sent to a group of Time employees who made their way to my inbox. “It’s not about putting all of these issues at Susan’s feet. The Guild’s structural financial problems date back at least seven years, and across three jurisdictions. But she chose to increase the Guild staff… and launch the organization in many stores… Susan has real strengths… She has a strong sense of the direction we are taking and the training and organization that we are taking. she sets up are great. But married to those assets is one face style that hasn’t served her well.
A little background: to pay for its meteoric expansion, the Guild has spent its reserve funds and has recorded a deficit since 2017, with reservations rising from about $ 11 million in 2016 to just over $ 5 million in 2020. The current deficit would be about $ 1.5 million per year, while Guild staff has grown from 10 in 2016 to 21 today. The problem is that the newly organized outlets do not start paying their contributions until they sign their first contracts. This process can be time consuming, which means that the expenses of the Guild have exceeded the income, and not to an insignificant degree. It also means that the lion’s share of revenue currently falls to Reuters and the Time, who together represent the overwhelming majority of paying members. (Other contributing members, such as The New Republic, The nation, and the Daily Beast, are much smaller.)
To sink the dollars, the guild management wants to increase the membership fees. “We want to make sure we have the financial capacity… to continue to make our union stronger and better for all of us, and for the members who will continue the fight in the future,” said the Guild in its ground. A vote on the issue is scheduled for June 1, but there is a strong smell of dissent in the air. Tuesday afternoon, the New York Times The Unit Council passed a resolution – 36 to 8 – asking the Guild to reverse the proposed dues increase.
“The Guild expects big organizational fights to come, including a strike in Condé Nast, and they want enough money to keep the fight going,” Time journalist Nicolas Confessore written in another recent email circulating in the Time. (Vanity Fair is owned by Condé Nast, where unions have been formed to The New Yorker, Pitchfork, Ars Technica and Wired; a potential strike is on the table in all three old publications.) “I don’t see why the Guild has spent a deficit at such a high burn rate for so long and is only now looking to align its income with spending,” Confessore continued. . “I’m told that burn rate warnings have been passed on to guild leaders in the past, but DeCarava and his team… believed in keeping the ranks growing.… Basically I think that. it is to ask current members to subscribe to the costs of growth of the Guild. Or, as another source put it, “The Guild basically wants Time employed to support the revolution. “
The proposed increase in dues and the urgency surrounding it have raised eyebrows. Until now, even the very involved members of the Guild were unaware of “the depth of their financial problems,” as one member put it. Some members tried to convince DeCarava to delay the proposed increase, at least until the final one was finalized. Time contract, which is expected to end later this year, but she could not be convinced. Some members also feel that the Guild has been evasive in explaining when the increase is and why it is needed now. Between the ongoing contract negotiations, the lingering pandemic and the fact that everyone is still working remotely, according to the aforementioned Guild member, “there is a general feeling that the timing is just odious.
The opposition, of course, is hardly uniform. After hearing that I was working on this story, I heard from over a dozen guild members, not just the Time and Reuters but also other publications – telling me why they support the proposed increase in dues and the leadership of DeCarava as a whole. (For what it’s worth, I’ve also heard from paying members who don’t work at Reuters or the Time, but echoed doubts about how the Guild is handling the situation.) “I believe in their plan to strengthen our union, including investing in strategic negotiations and continuing to organize new newsrooms,” said Amanda Hess, a Time general critic and member of the Guild’s executive committee. “Each member will have the opportunity to vote yes or no on a membership increase. I do not recommend increasing our dues lightly and I respect the fact that not everyone agrees that this is the best course of action. But I am proud that we can all vote.
“The union has not asked for a dues increase since I joined the Guild 12 years ago,” said Zachary Goelman, a Reuters video producer and shop steward. “The cost of a cup of coffee in my corner – arguably just as important to me as my guild health plan – has increased several times over the same period. I am prepared to pay a little more so that journalists like me can negotiate. Another Reuters reporter told me: “Unlike some people, I don’t easily dismiss some of the concerns I have heard from people, especially those who are actually in financial difficulty. . Having said that, I think people who question the Guild’s motives in seeking the augmentation are misguided. I have no doubts that the current administration is doing what it believes is best for the union and its future. “