Slate's union authorizes bargaining committee to call for a strike

Unionized editorial department says it feels betrayed, adding that staff wants more money

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Writers and editors at Slate have voted nearly unanimously to green-light a strike, escalating tensions between the digital publication and its newly unionized employees.

Slate's editorial employees authorized the potential strike by a vote of 52 to 1, according to a spokesman for the Writers Guild of America – East, and are now weighing when they may walk off the job. Along with stronger diversity policies and cost of living increases, the union wants the company to back off its insistence on making union fees optional, a policy disdained by organized labor.

"We just feel that it's a total and absolute betrayal of Slate's most fundamental values," said Slate writer Mark Joseph Stern, a member of the union's bargaining committee. In June, President Trump's Supreme Court appointee Neil Gorsuch was part of a 5-4 majority that made the whole U.S. public sector "right-to-work," a ruling roundly denounced on Slate's site.

Slate management did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Slate union is part of a wave of organizing in digital media, fueled by industry upheaval. In recent years, workers have unionized at outlets including Gizmodo Media Group, the HuffPost, Vice Media, the Guardian, the Daily Beast, and the New Yorker.

The recently unionized digital media shops have yet to stage a full-fledged strike. Union members at legal news website Law360 authorized a strike but didn't end up mounting one. Last week they reached a tentative deal which includes a ban on quotas for how many articles employees write and a requirement that the contract stay in effect even if the company is sold, according to a spokesman for their union, the Communications Workers of America's NewsGuild.

Workers in a number of other industries have recently gotten results by striking, including charter school teachers in Chicago, Marriott workers in several cities, and thousands of non-union Google employees around the world who staged a walkout over the company's handling of sexual misconduct.

Voting to authorize a strike sends a powerful signal of solidarity, said Temple University labor law professor Brishen Rogers: "Workers will only walk out if they trust one another to actually walk out, and to support one another during the strike."

Some of Slate's freelance contributors have already signaled their solidarity with the site's employees. In October, a group of law professors and other legal experts who've written for Slate released a statement urging the company to abandon its insistence on "right-to-work," calling it "anathema to the values that drew us to Slate in the first place."

Jordan Weissmann, who covers business at Slate, said he's also received messages of support from dozens of "Slate Plus" members, who pay $35 or more a year for additional content. "People support publications that align with our values right now," Weissman said, and Slate "has positioned itself in front of its readers and the public as part of the resistance."

Before the strike vote, Slate employees engaged in other forms of protest, including hour-long periods during which they refused to respond to their managers on the workplace chat hub Slack.

The union's proposals include a requirement that Slate consider a diverse mix of candidates for open positions. The company is owned by Graham Holdings Company, whose other assets include a health and hospice care provider, TV stations, and the education and test prep company Kaplan. Graham Holdings was named the Washington Post Company until it sold that paper to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in 2013.

— Bloomberg News

roberns [9:54 AM]

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CORRECTION: An earlier headline on this article incorrectly stated that Slate employees had gone on strike. They authorized their bargaining committee to call for a strike, but are not on strike.

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