‘The Young Turks’ Union Fight Gets Nastier with Charges of Retaliatory Firing, Withholding Raises

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The Myth of the Progressive Boss

Reprinted from The New Republic by Kim Kelly on March 5, 2020.

“Five years ago, the labor movement got an unexpected shot in the arm thanks to a bunch of angry bloggers,” writes Kim Kelly in The New Republic. “When workers at the smart, snarky digital news outlet Gawker went public with their organizing drive and unionized with the Writers Guild of America, East, they set a vital new precedent in an exploitative, unstable industry. The floodgates opened in digital journalism throughout the United States, with shop after shop joining the movement and swelling the WGAE’s ranks by 1,500 new members since the Gawker action. The new organizing also isn’t confined to digital-only workplaces—WGAE organizers are currently mounting a drive at corporate media behemoth Hearst—or to one union, as the News Guild of New York has also helped organized digital shops, including The New Republic’s.

“In those early days, recognition came fairly easily. Not long after Gawker’s successful organizing drive in 2015, Vice’s editorial workers unionized in an initial bargaining unit of 80. (Full disclosure: I was working at Vice at the time and took part in this drive.) By 2018, more than 400 workers in the company’s TV and production arms joined the company’s WGAE chapter. It made sense that Vice and its sibling hip, public-facing brands would want to project an image of magnanimity toward their employees, who were paid bargain-basement salaries and worked in conditions that were often chaotic, if not actively harmful. Voluntarily recognizing the union was also something of a P.R. asset for companies such as Vice and Gawker Media: a fairly cost-effective way to burnish a media outlet’s image. …

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“This more bitter and confrontational chapter in digital-age organizing came to a head in the high-profile battle to win union recognition at the self-styled progressive news network The Young Turks. Last month, production and post-production workers at TYT announced that they were unionizing with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. The network’s management responded with a bid to shut down the organizing drive before it had a chance to get off the ground, refusing to extend voluntary recognition to the workers looking to affiliate with IATSE. And as if to drive the point home, TYT co-founder Cenk Uygur went out of his way to discourage the union drive during a staff meeting. (Attempts to reach Uygur for timely comment on the conflict were unsuccessful.) …

The New Republic 3/5


The Young Turks Union Fight Gets Nastier with Charges of Retaliatory Firing, Withholding Raises

Reprinted from In These Times by Hamilton Nolan on March 5, 2020.

A contentious union campaign by the staff of the progressive news network The Young Turks (TYT) is growing even more combative. Today, the union filed two separate unfair labor practice charges alleging that the company and its CEO, the popular liberal media figure Cenk Uygur, withheld wage increases and bonuses from employees as a result of the union drive, and that they fired an employee as retaliation for union activity—charges that Uygur denies.  …

An employee of TYT involved in the union effort, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation, said that the workers’ annual discretionary raises—which represent a significant amount of money in a workplace where pay is already low—were scheduled to go into effect at the same time the union drive was announced. Shortly afterwards, according to the worker, employees involved in the union drive were told that “they were gonna have to delay our raises and bonuses until the union stuff got sorted out.” The worker said that employees who are not in the proposed collective bargaining unit did get their raises.

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One unfair labor practice charge filed at the National Labor Relations Board by IATSE today says that TYT is guilty of “withholding predetermined wage increases and bonuses in response to a Union’s demand for voluntary recognition.” Uygur said that the company was simply maintaining the status quo while the union drive was active. “Frankly, we can’t win, because we all know that if we gave the raises, IATSE would be accusing us of bribing employees not to support the union,” he said. “If IATSE doesn’t object to TYT giving the raises, we would be more than happy to do so.” …

In These Times 3/5

About Jeffrey Burman 5245 Articles
Jeff Burman served on the Guild’s Board of Directors from 1992 to 2019. He is now retired. He can be reached at jeffrey.s.burman.57@gmail.com.

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