Managers at several mainstream media outlets and even some editorial staffers in newly unionized newsrooms have begun spreading information with one message: Don’t join a union.
Amid increasing turbulence in the media economy over the past several years, newsrooms across the country have pushed to unionize. While many media companies have begrudgingly embraced their employees’ unionization efforts, in recent weeks, several major media publishers and some employees have become more vocal in opposing organized labor—at NBC News, for example, some staffers independently launched websites and social-media pages dedicated to warning of the perceived dangers of a union.
NBC’s digital staff announced in October that they would join the NewsGuild, a media-industry and writers’ union that represents other major outlets including The New York Times, Reuters, and The Daily Beast, among others.
Despite support from the vast majority of the roughly 160 staffers who could join the union, NBC requested a vote this week with the National Labor Relations Board and began disseminating claims about the problems with unionization.
Shortly after October’s announcement, NBC digital executive vice president Chris Berend sent several messages to staff, including a lengthy email responding to what he described as frequently asked questions about the union. Health-care benefits are at risk, he warned, and union-mandated raises could be “less on average than under the merit plan.”
And so following that, a small but vocal contingent of digital staffers voluntarily set in motion to echo management’s claims and actively discourage unionization efforts.
Among their tactics: Complaining about unionizing in a Slack channel visible to thousands of employees; and—as first reported by The Hollywood Reporter—launching a bright, colorful “No NBC NewsGuild” Instagram account full of anti-union meme-like images warning about the risks of unionizing, including the potential for increased gym costs.
“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. 🙅♀️,” reads one Instagram post’s caption.
“You mean to tell us pets could be impacted too? 🗣 DM this to that coworker who is constantly showing you photos of their beloved schmoopiewoopiebear. 🐶🐱,” reads another post.
The Instagram page account also links to a website cataloging the alleged risks of unionizing, and encouraging fellow unionization opponents to email a “nonbcnewsguild” account to inquire for more information. The anti-union page complains about the cost of mandatory dues, argues that employees risk losing merit-based raises, and threatens that everything from health-care to retirement benefits would worsen under a union.
An NBC spokesperson emphasized to The Daily Beast that company brass was not involved in the anti-union push by these employees, or in the creation of the anti-union pages.
NewsGuild members were not pleased by the accounts, which they said misrepresented the union’s goals and spread false claims about unionization. The union has said, contrary to some information in the accounts, that its goals include reducing gender and race wage gaps, addressing chronic understaffing, prioritizing diversity, promoting transparency, and offering stronger employment protections.
“We do not know who started this account, but we do know that fear and misinformation about our rights keep us divided. After our vote count on Dec. 13, we look forward to coming together as one united staff to protect and look out for one another,” the union said in a statement.
The Peacock Network isn’t the only outlet where managers and some newsroom staff have fought back against the tide of unionization.
Management at Hearst, for example, have also fought back the company’s newly formed union, which represents staffers from over 20 Hearst-owned magazines.
Several sources with knowledge told The Daily Beast that after the vote to unionize, some Hearst employees were encouraged by managers to not support the union (New York magazine reported that in a meeting last month, some more senior staff who could potentially join the union were advised to revoke their union cards).
Following the union’s decision to go public, however, the company created an anti-union information page. And in a series of emails obtained by The Daily Beast, Hearst president Troy Young shared a page highlighting anti-union proposals, arguing that—despite any complaints—Hearst benefits were “industry-leading.”
And the owners of newly combined newspaper giants GateHouse Media and Gannett have discouraged employees from unionizing, publicly criticizing the Newsguild-CWA, which represents several Gannett papers.
In a statement last month, the NewsGuild-CWA said the merger would cost jobs and drive down wages.
GateHouse CEO Michael E. Reed hit back in an interview with The New York Times, criticizing the newly rising unions.
“I frankly think the Guild’s a big problem,” he said, “and until we can get them to sit at a table and have a real discussion about where the world is today, there’s going to be inefficiencies.”