A massive union drive at Hearst Magazines, one of the world’s largest periodical publishers, finally came to fruition Wednesday when staffers voted 241-83 to form a union through Writers Guild of America, East.
It is a victory that was nine months in the making and the vote couldn’t have come at a more pressing time as the company grapples with the effects of the pandemic and its own reckoning over race and a toxic workplace culture.
“Hearst is not just about a storied brand; it’s about the hard work of the people who are involved with writing, editing, and producing the stories that educate and inspire and delight readers and viewers,” Lowell Peterson, executive director of the Writers Guild of America, East, said, in a statement. “These employees have voted overwhelmingly to join with the Writers Guild of America, East to bargain collectively over the terms and conditions of their employment, to make their voices heard in the workplace, to ensure that their needs and interests and priorities are addressed.”
The coronavirus pandemic has decimated revenue sources for many media companies, leading to rounds of layoffs and furloughs. Hearst has managed to avoid staff cuts and furloughs for now. A staff memo obtained by the New York Post in April from Hearst CEO Steve Swartz and COO Mark Aldam, said the business was in “stronger financial shape than many companies.’
Then the company was hit with a second crisis when Hearst Magazines President Troy Young resigned last week after he was accused of inappropriate workplace behavior, some of which was reported in a New York Times investigation. Young told The Times ahead of publication that the “Specific allegations raised by my detractors are either untrue, greatly exaggerated or taken out of context.” After publication, Young issued an apology.
Hearst Magazines’ union drive was a massive effort, encompassing 28 digital and print brands, including Cosmopolitan, Delish and Esquire, and it has about 500 members. It’s one of the largest unions in the media industry.
“We’re thrilled to see so many months of hard work pay off and are eager to start bargaining our first union contract,” Hearst union tweeted. “Hundreds of us across 28 brands and several states voted for a fairer and more transparent workplace, and we can’t wait to bring this energy to negotiations.”
Staffers voted through mail-in ballots because the pandemic presented risks to holding an in-person election.
The National Labor Relations Board counted the ballots and revealed the results on Wednesday.
Since announcing in November their intention to unionize, staffers were met with fierce resistance from Hearst management. Young, in particular, repeatedly outlined his opposition to a union in staff memos and in meetings.
“We simply do not need an outside third party involved to do our best work,” Young wrote in one memo, obtained by New York magazine.
Hearst staffers told CNN Business in November that they were unionizing to improve transparency, diversity in hiring and leadership, compensation and editorial standards.
Following Young’s resignation, Hearst named Debi Chirichella, the chief financial officer, as interim president.
A new wave of media companies have been unionizing in recent years to push for better workplace protections. NBC News voted to unionize in December with NewsGuild, which also represents staffers at BuzzFeed News, The New Yorker and Sports Illustrated, among other publications. Hearst unionized through Writers Guild of America, East, which also represents Vice Media, Vox Media and others.
“We’ve been listening to our editorial teams’ aspirations for the company and will continue to address and act on them,” a Hearst Magazines spokesperson told CNN Business. “Now, it’s time to forge a path forward together, to maintain Hearst Magazines’ focus on innovation and long tradition of creating highly informative, engaging content. We remain committed to providing an equitable work environment that embraces diversity, transparency, fair compensation and best-in-class editorial standards.”