Tomorrow, Gawker Media employees will vote for a union—or against it. It’s a historic vote, because no digital media company has ever organized. Some might say that’s because it’s unnecessary, that digital media employees do just fine on their own. A string of incidents in my own career, however, suggests otherwise.
Let me be very upfront about one thing: I’m in favor of the union. I’ve been involved with the process of establishing a union for Gawker Media writers and editors since the first meeting, and I’m optimistic about the eventual outcome. I’m hopeful, because I see this as a way for my coworkers to change not only our own lives but also set a precedent in the entire industry. Digital media is no longer just burgeoning. It’s thriving, and now is the time to assert our right to organize.
It wasn’t always like this. When I graduated from college, the nation had just been smacked by the worst recession in a century, and jobs were hard to find—especially in the media. While applying for jobs, I mostly remember hearing about mass layoffs at legacy publications. I was sending out resumes, when Gawker Media laid off 40-percent of its editorial staff. I felt damn lucky when I did get an offer (not from Gawker). So I agreed to a tiny salary and worked my ass off. I would’ve done anything for the chance at a career in journalism, and digital media was the way of the future.
The surplus of hungry digital kids with college degrees enabled some companies to take certain liberties. I lost my first job in digital media because I refused to fire several freelance employees without cause. This all happened around the same time that they started fighting for their right to health care. (They were all “laid off,” after my departure.)
I lost my second job in digital media because I suffered a manic episode and needed to take a leave of absence. However, the company said I’d either need to apply for disability or resign and reapply for my own job a few weeks later. I resigned, but I never did get that job back.
I left my third job in digital media after my six week trial period ended up lasting almost a year, during which I more or less ended up working two full-time jobs without benefits. They’d promised a job with benefits from the outset. Instead, I worked overtime, only to be told that the offer was just around the corner. At the tail end of this experience, I got an offer from Gizmodo and never looked back.
I don’t come from a union family at all. My parents own a small restaurant in Tennessee, and politically speaking, identify most closely with Ross Perot circa 1992. But I’ve always wondered if being in a union could’ve helped me keep that first and second job—both of which I loved. I wondered if a union could’ve helped me hold my bosses accountable when they promised things they didn’t deliver.
That’s why I’m helping to organize our union. That and the fact that I love my job. Working at Gawker Media these past couple years has been a privilege, and I want to make sure all of my coworkers feel valued, secure, and, well, happy.
So far, however, there’s been a lot of confusion about the process. This is mostly because we’re making it up as we go. The Writer’s Guild has provided guidance, but again, nobody’s ever formed a union for digital media employees. It’s not an easy trail to blaze. Some people have asked me recently if this is just an attention grab, a way to make Gawker Media stand out from the sea of venture capital-funded digital media companies, a stunt to ruffle feathers.
Trust me: Nick Denton likes stunts, but this entire process is driven by the workers. Some of these workers want better healthcare. Some want a transparent pay structure. Some simply want a sense of solidarity. Hamilton Nolan expressed our purpose perfectly in his original announcement post about organizing:
Every workplace could use a union. A union is the only real mechanism that exists to represent the interests of employees in a company. A union is also the only real mechanism that enables employees to join together to bargain collectively, rather than as a bunch of separate, powerless entities. This is useful in good times (which our company enjoys now), and even more in bad times (which will inevitably come).
And really, that’s all we’re voting for tomorrow. We’re not voting on specifics. We’re simply voting to organize. We’re voting for the ability to bargain collectively. The specifics will be discussed as we’re negotiating our first contract, and the goal will always be to make the lives of Gawker Media writers and editors better.
When I was first getting started in digital media, I certainly could’ve used a mechanism to help me stand up for my rights and build my career. I would’ve loved a union. And now, we can have one — all of us, and the writers who come after us, too.