As the media industry continues to search for viable business models, those feeling a sense of whiplash from the economic headwinds continue to seek out better labor protections through unionization. Today, digital business publication Quartz announced that its U.S. editorial staff is unionizing with the NewsGuild.
The group of about 60 editorial employees—including writers, editors, and social media and video producers—have been working on this pursuit for nearly two years. They’ve delivered a letter to management asking for voluntary recognition. The announcement says:
A central part of Quartz’s identity is our writer-centered newsroom. Even while enjoying creative freedom, our reporters, video producers, deputy editors, and growth editors need clearly defined protections—of salaries, benefits, and employee expectations—as much as workers assembling cars or teaching children. These protections are more necessary now than ever, given the recent histories of both our publication and our industry.
In order to retain the talent that makes our newsroom special—and attract new, diverse talent that will bring our work to the next level—we need to know that Quartz will be a place where we can grow in our careers, following a clear and bold editorial vision. A place where we receive fair pay and annual cost of living raises, and where our newsroom includes a far greater proportion of people of color and people from working class backgrounds. We believe the best method of ensuring that future is by bargaining collectively.
I reached out to Quartz for comment. A spokesperson provided me with the following statement: “We look forward to working with the NewsGuild on a voluntary recognition process and have already reached out to it to start that. Through this process, we will work together to exemplify our values and continue to make Quartz a great place to work.”
Despite its position as a well-respected business news brand, Quartz has not been immune to the tumultuous economics of digital media. Once owned by Atlantic Media, Quartz sold to the relatively unknown Japanese company Uzabase last July, a deal reported for as much as $110 million. Though rumors had been circulating for years that Atlantic Media was looking for buyers, this sale caught many by surprise.
According to employees, the idea of a union had been percolating since well before the acquisition, but earlier efforts were stifled–partially due to the fear that a union drive could hinder a possible sale. But when the Uzabase purchase was announced, it created a new sense of uncertainty.
“When Quartz sold to Uzabase we had no reason to worry,” says staff writer Zoë Schlanger. “We’re also not naive to what happens when anything is sold.” As time went on, for the most part, employees were happy with the way the company operated. Yet conditions can change quickly with a new parent company. “Priorities can shift,” she says; Codifying a contract became more compelling, given the recent sale. Schlanger goes on, “getting the best protection possible from major upsets in the company is a huge priority.”
In recent years, media unions have become both normalized and perhaps somewhat expected. Some media companies are consolidating, others are scaling back considerably, while a few have outright shut down. Executives have struggled to figure out new and sustainable business models—often at the expense of the editorial staff.
“The media landscape is changing a lot,” says Quartz reporter Olivia Goldhill. “Having a union is a way for reporters to be a part of those conversations.”
She adds, “it does feel like every media organization has a union—and it’s been great to see that so many have been voluntarily recognized.” Goldhill explains, “given the reality of media it felt like there was a desire for security.”
Quartz joins a long list of media publications whose staffs have recently announced plans to unionize. BuzzFeed News has been in a fight with management to get voluntarily recognized; podcasting company Gimlet announced an editorial union last month (which also has yet to be voluntarily recognized); Ars Technica and Pitchfork have collectively created a joint Conde Nast union. Meanwhile, other newsrooms (including Fast Company) have unionized over the last year and are currently collectively bargaining with management for a contract.
For Quartz, this push isn’t so much about making a better work environment but for maintaining the status quo. And the employees are hopeful management will respond both swiftly and affirmatively. “Quartz is a fairly horizontal company,” says Schlanger, “we have good access to higher-ups. We expect that collegiality to continue when these conversations start.”
Still, many media workers—both at Quartz and elsewhere—have seen the rapid changes happening in the industry and can’t help but get a foreboding feeling. At Quartz, says Schlanger, the volatility motivated people to think beyond the fact that they love working there. She goes on, “we can only stand to benefit from getting protection.”
Disclosure: The Fast Company editorial staff is represented by the Writers Guild of America-East
This story has been updated with a comment from Quartz.