By now, you’ve probably read the letter that Vox Media’s publisher, Melissa Bell, sent to all of us Wednesday (12/13) afternoon: “A note on Vox Media union.” In the letter, Melissa says that management has strong reservations about the company voluntarily recognizing the Vox Media Union, although she notes that Vox hasn’t ruled it out yet.
From the beginning, this union has worked hard to be a collaborative effort across each of Vox Media’s verticals. We continue to find widespread support across multiple sites and states. And we are building more bridges all the time.
When we took this campaign public and informed management of our desire to unionize with the Writers Guild of America, East, on November 17, we already had majority support from Vox Media’s editorial and video employees. In the month following that public declaration, more and more of our Vox Media coworkers have been signing cards. Our union already has the support of a supermajority of employees, and still, we’re waiting on recognition.
While we share the company’s goal to make this an amicable process, Melissa’s letter is full of union-busting language and misrepresentations about the process of voluntary recognition and card check. We regret that the company has taken this stance in direct opposition to its employees. We would like to address the letter point-by-point, starting here:
Our first concern is that, while there may be support for the union’s efforts across the various editorial brands, and in other parts of the organization, we have heard from many people who are troubled by the efforts, and are worried about expressing their concerns and speaking out against unionization. Others have been confused about the union and the process, and have not felt as if they had time to make an educated decision. We appreciate the passion and commitment of the union organizing committee, but even if there is broad support for a union, we want to ensure that all employees have the opportunity to make informed decisions about the union, and feel that their voices are heard too.
We already have a majority of support for the Vox Media Union across all eight of the company’s editorial brands. There is no “may be” about it. The company could verify the number of employees who have signed union cards by agreeing to a card check. In that process, a neutral, third-party arbiter would confirm the legitimacy of each and every signed union card. This process would confirm that a supermajority of Vox Media employees want to organize.
Not every employee supports the union. Those who don’t are still our colleagues and friends, and we’ll fight every day for them once management recognizes the union. If you feel that you or your team have not been adequately represented in the organizing process, please contact us. If you’re confused, please contact us. If you want to think on it more, we understand that, too. Our union gets stronger with every voice we hear. It’s already strong enough to represent a supermajority of this company’s editorial and video employees.
Melissa’s next point:
Second, we have concerns about the scope of the proposed bargaining unit. Traditionally, supervisors – generally, anyone who manages other people – are not included in union bargaining units as it could lead to conflicts in running the business, which is why technically, supervisors don’t have a legal right to join a union. The committee has acknowledged that there is a discussion to be had about the composition of the unit regardless of the path forward on organization, and we appreciate that.
We’re willing to have a discussion about who will and won’t be included in the union’s bargaining unit. We’re not willing to have the highest levels of Vox Media’s management decide that unilaterally, with help from outside counsel whom they’ve hired to push back against the union effort. Management’s attempt to make that decision by executive decree is one of the strongest examples yet for why we need this union. It would provide us with a seat at that table.
Who is and is not a supervisor for the purposes of union inclusion necessitates a meaningful discussion. In an ever-evolving digital media company, supervisory distinctions are not immediately obvious. Stating that they are is an attempt to divide our union. If you are receiving this email, we believe that you are in the bargaining unit, and we will fight for your inclusion. It’s important to remember: Vox Media could agree to card check today and immediately begin the process of recognizing our union.
Melissa also writes:
Finally, while we understand union organizing committee’s preferred method is to move toward a union by voluntary recognition, in our research about unionizing efforts at other companies, an NLRB election would allow us a moderated avenue to address our concerns about the bargaining unit, and offer a fair process for all employees. It would do so with a clear, fast, and finite process for us to follow, lasting about a month from start to finish. While we are ready to discuss our concerns directly with the committee, we are confused as to why an NLRB election would not be considered.
An NLRB election is many things. “Clear” and “fast” are not among them. NLRB elections are anti-labor, bureaucratic, and messy. They require paper ballots, which have to be mailed in. It would be out of line with Vox’s values and its daily mode of doing business, but also unpleasant and distracting for employees.
Taking this organizing effort to the NLRB is unacceptable. It is not a “moderated avenue.” It is a government agency that is, at present, actively making it more difficult for employees to organize unions. In this antiquated, clunky process, the NLRB would legally compel Vox Media to negotiate with the union after receiving mailed-in paper ballots from a majority of employees in the unit. This does not have to happen.
As our own Ezra Klein has noted in the past, more than twice as many workers report feeling pressured by management in NLRB elections than card checks. Ezra also wrote: “Even more interesting, fewer workers in card check campaigns said coworkers pressured them to join the union (17% to 22%). Workers in card check elections were more than twice as likely to report the employer took a neutral stance and let the workers decide.” Which process sounds better to you?
We’ve already voted decisively to form a union by signing union cards. At HuffPost, management went on the record in support of the campaign within a day of learning of the organizing effort and agreed to a card check process. MTV News recognized the editorial union less than 2 weeks after the campaign went public. VICE recognized the editorial union without delay. There’s no reason Vox Media’s management should behave any differently. That a forward-thinking company like this one would try to use the federal government to muck up a union organizing process is hypocritical, redundant, and distrustful of its own employees.
And one more note from our publisher:
And while our business gives us much to feel proud about, we are still in a precarious industry, and we want to ensure that our business remains strong and competitive by maintaining the flexibility necessary to adapt and innovate. Doing so is imperative to our ability to provide jobs and career paths to employees. To make Vox Media a sustainable business for the long-term, we need to continually position the company to be agile in an ever-changing media environment.
That might be because Vox Media’s management got it from the same pricey, union-busting outside lawyers other management groups have hired to combat organizing efforts. Newsrooms, both digital and traditional, are unionized across this country and still manage to produce quality, compelling journalism in surprising and innovative ways. This “inflexibility” does not manifest in actual union contracts, which are voted on by every single employee in the bargaining unit. (See examples of ratified union contracts at Gizmodo Media Group, HuffPost, and Vice.)
We’re all here because we work hard and have shown ourselves to be adaptive, versatile workers who are well-suited to this industry. We also like working at Vox Media and have an interest in seeing the company continue to thrive. A union will change nothing about any of that.
We’ve come together from across sites, cities, and time zones. We’ve realized that, even as we’re often isolated from each other, we share a lot of common experiences. Maybe your healthcare has gotten more expensive. Maybe you’re not sure how to get a raise. We want more transparency and better communication around those issues. We want policies in place to meaningfully address them and abuses of power like sexual harassment.
Above all, we want to have each other’s backs.
The responsibility to communicate better isn’t just on management. It’s also on us. We want to hear from you, answer your questions, and make you a part of this process if you’re not already. We have a union email address – firstname.lastname@example.org – and a bunch of us have those Twitter avatars with the union logo. However and whenever you’d like to reach out is great.
We’re going to succeed in building this union, because we’re going to do it together.
The Vox Media Union Organizing Committee