BuzzFeed journalists agree to unionise in wake of layoffs

Workers say they are seeking better benefits and fair pay. (Bloomberg pic)

NEW YORK: BuzzFeed’s US journalists agreed to unionise, 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 favour of the decision to join NewsGuild, the labour 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% 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 criticise 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 recognise the union.

“We look forward to meeting with the organisers to discuss a way toward voluntarily recognising 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 HuffPost division and Gannett 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.

Unionised 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 unionise, 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.