Just one day after staff at the network announced plans to form a union, MSNBC higher-ups are already pushing back against the organizing efforts.
On Thursday, employees at the left-leaning cable news network went public with a plan to form a union with the Writers Guild of America East that would include over 300 of the network’s producers, fact-checkers, writers, and talent bookers. As The New York Times pointed out, some high-profile network stars, including hosts Chris Hayes and Joy Reid, immediately expressed support for the union.
But the unionization effort was met somewhat less favorably by some of the network’s higher-ups.
After the unionization drive was announced on Thursday, MSNBC senior vice president of news programming Dan Arnall spoke with staff on multiple dayside shows virtually during daily editorial meetings to answer questions about the unionization process. But according to network insiders and audio shared with The Daily Beast from one of the meetings, at various points, he used the time to point out the possible negative implications of joining a union.
During multiple meetings, Arnall suggested that contract negotiations could go years, repeatedly citing an example where a contract negotiation went on as long as “17 years” and “nearly 20 years.” He also argued that union dues and fees could discourage low-salaried, entry level employees from joining MSNBC, and also suggested that the fees could discourage nonwhite candidates from taking jobs at MSNBC (the WGAE has a $500 initiation fee, which new hires can pay in installments once a contract is in place).
“It comes with costs and it’s an unknown benefit right now,” he said of the union.
He added: “If our entry-level jobs come with...a requirement to write a check, pay a percentage of your salary—I’m desperately concerned that we might be turning away people who might be exactly the people that we want to be the next generation of MSNBC, NBC News employees,” he said, noting the network’s push to diversify staff.
The MSNBC executive also cited his own experience as a member of a union as reason for staff to pause before voting in favor. He said his own experience in a newsroom union in New York was “generally positive,” and that NBCUniversal has a “fantastic and historic relationships with represented workers and the unions that they've joined.”
But, he argued, ultimately his experience in a union was not worth the cost of dues he paid.
“What I got out of it as a freelance, part-time writer was a subscription to the magazine and an invitation at the end of the year to a boat cruise on the Circle Line for the holiday party. So I don’t know that my $1200 check that I had write before I could start getting paid, and the percentage of my salary that was paid out in dues on a quarterly basis, was necessarily worth it to me at the time.”
WGAE would not elaborate on details of the meeting. But in a brief statement to The Daily Beast on Friday, a union spokesperson said news of the meeting was “disappointing,” adding “any meetings of this nature should halt.”
A network source familiar with the situation said that Arnall was simply sharing his own personal views on the impact of unionization at a news organization.
“Nothing that was said here was out of bounds,” the network source said. “Employees are asking good questions. Managers sharing their personal experiences with union representation and facts about the cost and impact of dues is totally appropriate and important so that employees can make an informed choice.”
MSNBC leadership has already indicated it planned to make the unionized staffers prove they have a broad base of support within the network.
When MSNBC staff announced a unionization drive on Thursday, they shared a memo signed by 200 employees in support of the effort, and argued that the network should voluntarily recognize the legitimacy of the union without holding a formal vote.
But in a note to staff shared with The Daily Beast on Thursday, MSNBC president Rashida Jones said that the network would be holding an election through the National Labor Relations Board, which requires staff to vote on a secret ballot to approve or disapprove the formation of a union (Other unions at NBCUniversal have also been subject to NLRB votes rather than voluntary recognition).
“An election supervised by the government allows all affected employees the chance to express their view on unionizing through a secret ballot,” she said. “It is important to give everyone who would be included the chance to understand what this would mean before making their choice.”
Some union members have also worried that others internally may be organizing against the union efforts. On Friday, the MSNBC union Twitter account followed an anonymous Twitter user called “NoMSNBCUnion” which shared a message saying that they were “concerned WGA representation is the wrong path forward and would jeopardize our careers, pay and benefits.”
While the account itself had almost no followers or engagement, the title echoed a similar social media push by opponents of NBC’s unionization effort several years ago.
As The Daily Beast reported at the time, after NBC staff announced plans to unionize in 2019, some anti-union employees created a “No NBC NewsGuild” Instagram account full of memes discouraging unionization, citing the high cost of dues and impact on other employee perks including gym memberships.
“Uh-oh! Dolla dolla bill... no? 💸 Contrary to popular belief, there is no ability to opt out of dues. Yikes! We’re breaking down everything you need to know about how it’ll impact ~cash flow~ over at the link in our bio. 🙅♀️,” one Instagram caption read. The account was later deleted.