BuzzFeed journalists agree to unionize in wake of layoffs

The digital media company eliminated 15 percent of its headcount last month

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Credit: Illustration by Tam Nguyen/Ad Age

BuzzFeed Inc.'s U.S. journalists agreed to unionize, saying they would seek better benefits and fair pay after seeing some colleagues lose their jobs last month.

An overwhelming majority of workers were in favor of the decision to join NewsGuild, the labor union that's part of the Communications Workers of America, according to a person familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified discussing details of the decision.

BuzzFeed's move last month to eliminate 15 percent of its headcount gutted several parts of the newsroom, including the national desk and the health desk. Following the layoffs, employees took to Twitter and Medium to criticize the company for failing to pay all dismissed workers for accrued time off. Eventually BuzzFeed management relented.

"We want to remain spry and competitive, but we reject the argument that we must choose between freelancing in a hellscape gig economy for vampirical platforms or submitting to the whims of a corporation that botches basic HR tasks," the BuzzFeed News Union said in a statement.

The workers asked for BuzzFeed management to recognize the union.

"We look forward to meeting with the organizers to discuss a way toward voluntarily recognizing their union," Ben Smith, BuzzFeed News editor-in-chief, said by email.

The cutbacks at BuzzFeed were part of a wave of layoffs at media outlets including Verizon Communications Inc.'s HuffPost division and Gannett Inc.'s newspapers, as publishers continue to struggle to find profitable business models.

The tumult has led journalists at several outlets to opt for collective bargaining. Employees at Mashable, Vice Media and Gizmodo Media Group have all voted to join unions in the last couple of years, and while that hasn't prevented layoffs, it has in some cases cushioned the blow. Unionized journalists at HuffPost, for example, were reportedly entitled to at least two months of severance pay because of their collective bargaining agreement.

As other digital newsrooms voted to unionize, BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti told employees that they didn't need a union or the often adversarial relationship with management that follows. "I don't think a union is right for BuzzFeed," he told employees in 2015.

—Bloomberg News

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