Staffers at the popular business publication Fortune planned to strike outside the magazine’s first in-person conference in years, ultimately forcing its postponement. Their plans allegedly had the support of Biden Cabinet members, according to the magazine’s CEO.
The Daily Beast has learned that on Tuesday afternoon, unionized Fortune staffers were set to announce that because of a lack of progress in contract negotiations with magazine management, they plan to picket the Fortune CEO Initiative conference set for Sept. 13-14 at the Park Hyatt in Washington, D.C.
“The CEOI conference is all about moral leadership and progress and how business can be vehicles for the good,” assistant audience engagement editor McKenna Moore told The Daily Beast in a brief call. “Fortune is not living up to those values.”
But ahead of the union’s announcement of the strike, Fortune CEO Alan Murray wrote in a Tuesday email to all employees that he plans to postpone the conference.
The CEO noted that the picketing would “interfere” with the conference and could involve the unionized staff of the Hyatt hosting location. He further claimed to have been informed that both Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh and Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo were set to boycott the event.
However, a Department of Labor spokesperson told The Daily Beast, “We 100% respect pickets, but the Secretary was never confirmed in the first place for the event due to scheduling conflicts.” And while Raimondo’s office did not respond to a request for comment, a source familiar with the situation said the commerce secretary was never confirmed to appear.
Ultimately, Murray announced, CEOI “will no longer be held as scheduled and we are looking into alternate dates.” The conference was the first major in-person event the influential business outlet had planned since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. early last year.
Prior to the postponement, Fortune had already taken some bizarre steps to avoid a potential public spectacle. After staffers alerted management to plans of a picket, the magazine quietly removed the names of some high-profile Democrats and Biden officials from a website listing the speakers for the conference.
A cached version of the guest list page from this past Sunday—viewable on the Wayback Machine, a digital archiving site—showed a number of powerful speakers including Walsh, along with former Senator John Kerry, now a climate official in the Biden administration, and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. But the latest iteration of the CEOI website has all of those names scrubbed.
Fortune did not respond to a request for comment about why the names were removed. But the magazine’s employees speculated that the magazine was potentially looking to avoid repeating the situation that threatened to tank a New Yorker event last year. In September, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez withdrew from the virtual speaking gigs at The New Yorker Festival after staff threatened to picket over similar collective bargaining frustrations with publisher Condé Nast.
The ongoing tug-of-war between Fortune and its staff has been prolonged and ugly. (Fortune’s unionized staffers are represented by the NewsGuild, a union that counts among its members staffers at The New York Times, BuzzFeed News, The Daily Beast, and others.)
The two sides began contract negotiations almost two years ago, but both seem far from a satisfactory deal. Earlier this year, staffers filed several complaints with the National Labor Relations Board and staged a one-day virtual walkout over what the union said were labor law violations, including the magazine’s suggestion that employees not share their salaries with the union. The next day, the magazine’s management filed its own complaint against the union, claiming unlawful bargaining tactics.