In January 2017, the editorial staff at The Huffington Post ratified its first collective bargaining agreement (click here to read it). The contract expires in 2020 and union members are currently preparing to go back to the bargaining table this fall.
The collective bargaining agreement includes major gains on pay, protections of journalistic integrity and a platform for the editorial staff to have an ongoing voice on the job.
The compensation terms ensure transparency and fairness, and lock in real pay raises and pay minimums based on system job titles. The contract guarantees that no unit member will receive less than a 3% per year increase, and many will receive substantially more. The new minimums and title adjustments address below-market pay issues, so a number of employees will receive increases of $10,000 – and in some cases as much as $20,000 – over the life of the agreement.
Additional highlights include:
• Strong language protecting the integrity of members’ editorial work, ensuring that editorial employees cannot be assigned to work on branded content or native advertising, and protecting editorial content from interference by advertisers, sponsors and business partners – and a committee to enforce these protections;
• A just cause provision for discipline and discharge, with specific provisions relating to editorial work product that require the company to provide notice and an opportunity to improve;
• Comp time will be given to employees who are assigned work hours on holidays and scheduled days off;
• Provisions to enhance newsroom diversity, including a system of job posting and an ongoing diversity committee;
• A new formal program in which unit members will share revenues from “derivative work” based on articles and videos they create for the company;
• A clear and transparent system for freelancing and outside work, establishing a process for reviewing requests to engage in outside work and setting forth the standards of review;
• A Labor-Management committee to discuss issues that arise during the term of the contract, plus committees on editorial issues and diversity;
• Guaranteed severance in the event of layoffs or termination for editorial issues – two months’ pay plus one week per year of service, and company-paid medical benefits for that entire period;
• Grievance and arbitration language that gives us the right to bring contract disputes to a neutral third-party arbitrator.
“This landmark agreement demonstrates that collective bargaining works,” said Lowell Peterson, Executive Director of the Writers Guild of America, East. “Our large and engaged negotiating committee worked tirelessly to communicate the real concerns of WGAE-represented employees, and the company’s bargaining team was respectful and responsive. We are building a strong movement of digital journalists in perilous times. The writers, editors and producers at The Huffington Post have achieved real gains by unionizing, and there are now 500 digital journalists covered by WGAE-negotiated contracts.”
The Huffington Post Bargaining Committee said, “When we decided to unionize at HuffPost, we had a lot of concerns we wanted to tackle: editorial autonomy, newsroom diversity, fair and transparent pay, and job security. We’re happy to say we’ve achieved a contract that addresses all that and more. This agreement is going to improve the lives of many of our peers, and make HuffPost an even better place to do great journalism. It shows what a newsroom can accomplish when it decides to come together and bargain collectively. We’re grateful to the company for working with us toward such a strong and fair first contract.”
HuffPosters won union recognition on January 14, 2016. Upon recognition, the Organizing Committee shared the following statement:
“We are pleased to announce the recognition of our union. The unionization of HuffPost’s editorial staff is another example of our newsroom practicing what we preach. Our campaign to win union recognition has united us in many ways. We’ve come together as a community across regions, departments, and positions to work towards a shared vision. The challenges and many steps in this process have brought us together and reaffirmed our commitment to bargaining a strong and fair contract. As we’ve stated from the very beginning, we’re proud to call ourselves HuffPosters, which is why we look forward to continuing to advocate for each other, our workplace, and our profession.”
For more see Huff Post’s Media Reporter Michael Calderone on the campaign.
On October 7, 2015, the HuffPost Organizing Committee announced their union drive in the following letter to their colleagues.
As you may have already heard, some of us have been in talks with the Writers Guild of America, East to organize a union. Our effort is still young, and we want to hear from everyone. The more people involved, the better the ultimate outcome will be. We’ve heard from our editor-in-chief. Now let’s talk to each other.
The creative freedom we enjoy is one of the things that makes HuffPost a great place to work. We believe organizing is the best way both to preserve what’s already working and to bring about positive change. Simply, a union will give us a voice in our newsroom’s future. Our colleagues at ThinkProgress, Salon, The Guardian US, Gawker, Vice and Al Jazeera America have all come to the same conclusion.
Below are some of the reasons why we want to unionize. They are just a starting point.
Compensation & Pay: One of the chief goals of unionizing would be to make pay and compensation more transparent and equitable. Creating compensation standards is one of the basic elements of a union contract. We hope to negotiate salary minimums (not maximums); clarify the relationship between workload, pay and titles; and create a fair, regular process for raises.
Clear Job Responsibilities: It is natural for one’s job responsibilities to shift over time depending on the needs of the company, and the freedom to collaborate with colleagues and work flexibly is one of the things that makes HuffPost great. But dramatic changes to employees’ workload and responsibilities, made without employee input, hinder our ability to produce our best work. Through contract negotiations, we hope to establish protocols for changing or adding work responsibilities, and adjusting compensation accordingly.
Establishing Standards for Hiring, Firing and Disciplinary Actions: We need to hire the best people possible in order to keep doing great work. The current hiring process is lengthy, highly subjective, and involves too many levels of review. We miss opportunities to bring on talented people as a result. We would like to see a hiring process that is efficient and sensitive to the needs of our various teams.
Terminations and disciplinary actions should also be transparent and fair. In order for HuffPost to attract and retain the talent we need to be competitive, we should have standards and procedures in place for judging performance, allowing employees to improve based on feedback, and, if it’s appropriate, letting people go. A union contract could allow us to set clear standards, as well as a process to protest unfair disciplinary actions and termination.
Diversity: HuffPost has taken a strong editorial stance in favor of diversity, but this diversity is not reflected among the staff. We would like to formalize our commitment to inclusivity in hiring, and keep HuffPost accountable to that commitment. A union is a formal mechanism to advocate for each other and to address systemic issues at the company on an ongoing basis.
Editorial Freedom and Independence: The only way to ensure HuffPost reporters and writers can hold the monied and powerful accountable is if they are guaranteed protection from retaliation. By negotiating a contract, we hope to formalize HuffPost’s commitment to fearless journalism so that powerful people and institutions can’t use their influence to dictate our coverage or squash stories that are unflattering.