BuzzFeed staff holds walkout amid ongoing push to unionize

BuzzFeed staff holds walkout amid ongoing push to unionize
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BuzzFeed News staff Monday walked out of the newsroom to demand recognition of a union employees announced they were forming in February following massive company-wide editorial layoffs. 

The walkout is across all four U.S. bureaus — New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and San Francisco — with a rally planned in front of the Manhattan office, according to a copy of a NewsGuild-CWA union press release.

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BuzzFeed employees claim management refused to recognize the bargaining unit employees had proposed and insisted on a far narrower scope of eligibility for the union. 

Employees allege BuzzFeed management also attempt to "exclude workers they claim are managerial, supervisory or confidential, despite the fact that these journalists neither manage employees nor are privy to confidential information," according to a release from the group.

A BuzzFeed spokesperson said the issue has been addressed, and claims the offer on the table would recognized reporters and editors working in the U.S. who don't manage staff, as well as "most other non-managerial" regular staff, including designers, curation staffers, art and photo.

"As the union notes, several employees who held managerial roles continued to express a strong interest in joining the union; so as a concession, BuzzFeed allowed these individuals to convert from their manager tracks to 'individual contributor' roles, and agreed to create a handful of non-manager editor positions," a spokesperson said.

BuzzFeed says it has made an offer to "voluntarily recognize the union."

"It has been on the table for almost two weeks. We hope they accept it," the spokesperson said.

BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti sent a Monday email to employees that was shared with The Hill and claims the company's offer is "both responsive to our employees' requests, and mindful of the way the company operates."

"Our offer is a good one, and it remains on the table today," Peretti wrote. "Since we made our offer on June 4, news staff have refused to accept it, and instead are seeking to impose additional demands that threaten our progress around voluntary recognition.”

Peretti said the union is "insisting the company remove from the recognition agreement the list of job titles that would be excluded from the union." The list is important, he said, because "the company needs a reliable and consistent means of identifying those employees and new hires who are included and excluded from the bargaining unit."

The other outstanding issue, he said, regards employees with individual contracts or who may sign one before collective bargaining agreement is complete, he said. Peretti said BuzzFeed has offered "a compromise that would allow employees to enter into individual contracts and be part of the unit."

"News staff, however, are seeking control over the company’s ability to offer individual contracts for the entire period leading up to adoption of a collective bargaining agreement. That’s not acceptable for us as a business, or as a world-class news organization," he said.

BuzzFeed News Union tweeted Monday afternoon that the company has offered "an unacceptable take-it-or-leave-it deal" and said management "walked away from the negotiating table. 

"We demand that they continue working with us to reach a voluntary recognition agreement that does this newsroom justice," the union said.

In the union statement, and on twitter, BuzzFeed News reporters have expressed appreciation for their jobs but frustration with management. 

"As someone who’s worked at BuzzFeed for more than six years, I’m deeply invested in the company and its future — which is exactly why I’m so invested in the newsroom unionizing,” BuzzFeed News deputy culture editor Rachel Sanders said in the release. "I wish BuzzFeed management could see this as an opportunity to show that they respect and value their employees, rather than reacting out of fear, and I hope they come back to the table so we can have a real conversation."

Culture Writer Scaachi Koul said she "loves her job and would like to get back to it," along with a photo from the walkout. 

Jane Lytvynenko, a BuzzFeed Canada reporter, said the BuzzFeed Canada Union stands in solidarity with the U.S. union.

BuzzFeed workers' efforts to unionize have been supported by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a presidential candidate and staunch advocate for the working class and supporter of labor and union groups. Sanders's presidential campaign unionized last month. 

Vox, another digital news media outlet, announced last week that management agreed to a tentative union contract after a 29-hour negotiation and newsroom-wide walkout. 

—Updated at 2:37 p.m.