The union that has represented workers at the site ThinkProgress said on Monday that it was exploring “legal options” against the site’s owner, the Center for American Progress (CAP), just days after it shut the progressive news outlet down.
“The Writers Guild secured an excellent severance package for our members that goes above the requirements of our collective bargaining agreement, but in light of new developments on the future of ThinkProgress, we are continuing conversations with CAP and exploring our legal options,” Jason Gordon, the director of communications for the Writers Guild of America, East, told The Daily Beast on Monday night.
Gordon would not go into further details. But his statement appears to have been prompted by concerns of remaining staff at ThinkProgress that the site would no longer function as an editorially independent arm of CAP but, instead, as a sounding board for scholars at the think tank. Ex-staffers noted that under the new system, the union workers who had populated thinkprogress.org with content would be replaced with non union workers; and that part of their actual union contract established editorial independence.
Within hours of Gordon issuing his statement, a spokesperson for CAP said it was shelving plans to keep the site running and would instead have it archived. The spokesperson also said that CAP would end the recurring donations feature for ThinkProgress supporters, which had also been a point of contention with union members, who believed that those donors should not have been required to opt out of giving their recurring donations.
The potential for a legal challenge over the manner in which ThinkProgress has been shut down creates additional headaches for leadership at CAP, which is the preeminent Democratic think tank in Washington D.C. and one of the more prominent advocates for unions and union workers. And it remains to be seen whether CAP’s decision to archive the site and end the recurring donor feature will prove satisfactory for ThinkProgress alum.
Feelings remain raw over the manner in which the site was shut down. CAP officials informed the remaining employees on Friday that a months-long search for a new publisher had failed, and that the website would no longer function as an editorially independent entity.
The announcement faced blowback from several staffers and alumni, who noted that ThinkProgress, once one of the top news entities in the progressive ecosystem, had experienced budget shortfalls every year of its existence with no threat of closure.
But in the statement on Monday night, the CAP spokesperson reiterated that the current fiscal outlook was far worse than in the past, noting that the budget deficit had “expanded from $700,000 to $2,500,000.”
“Throughout an extensive process over many months, we were as transparent as possible with ThinkProgress staff,” the spokesperson said. “In just the last eight years, CAP and CAPAF made an investment of over $11 million in ThinkProgress because of its important work. However, over several months we worked to find a new publisher, and unfortunately we found no one willing to take on ThinkProgress. At that point we were faced with a choice between shelving the site altogether or finding some productive value in using it with existing staff to hold the current corrupt occupant of the White House accountable. We felt that opting for the latter was the greater good, given the existential crisis our nation faces, and communicated that to staff and in public statements on Friday.”
As noted in Gordon’s statement, CAP did agree to severance packages beyond what ThinkProgress employees—who ratified their Writers Guild of America, East contract in July 2016—had negotiated. All told, the 11 staffers who lost their jobs last week will receive 12 weeks’ pay, coupled with health insurance coverage through the end of the year.