BuzzFeed News Union holds walkout as the company awaits merger vote

New York, New York – As BuzzFeed prepares to go public, members of the BuzzFeed News Union walked off the job on Thursday in efforts to speed up contract negotiations with the company.

On Thursday, members of the BuzzFeed News Union walked out in efforts to speed up contract agreements with management.
On Thursday, members of the BuzzFeed News Union walked out in efforts to speed up contract agreements with management.  © Collage: 123RF/jezper & prima91

The walkout comes on the same day that shareholders at the special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) 890 Fifth Avenue Partners are expected to vote to approve a hefty $1.5 billion merger with BuzzFeed, according to CNN.

If the merger gets approved, BuzzFeed intends to merge with media company Complex Networks in a $300 million deal.

Meanwhile, members of the BuzzFeed News Union, comprised of reporters, editors, photographers, and designers, walked out to remind executives that, "there's no BuzzFeed News without us", per a tweet sent by the union.

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When BuzzFeed management learned about the walkout, they allegedly told participating members they'd be docked a day of pay if they didn't retroactively submit a paid time off (PTO) request, according to the union.

In 2019, BuzzFeed News employees voted in favor of unionizing with the NewsGuild of New York, citing, "Legitimate grievances about unfair pay disparities, mismanaged pivots and layoffs, weak benefits, skyrocketing health insurance costs, diversity, and more."

The move came after BuzzFeed made sweeping layoffs that same year, as the media outlet cut nearly 15% of its workforce.

The reason for the workers' walkout on Thursday stems from the continued disgruntled feeling many employees have regarding their pay and general contract agreements.

The BuzzFeed News Union has said that BuzzFeed management offered employees a 1% guaranteed pay raise per year, and has refused to budge from their proposed $50,000 salary floor. This, the union argues, is not enough to live in cities where BuzzFeed has newsrooms, such as San Francisco, California and New York, New York.

In addition to pay discrepancies, the BuzzFeed News Union claims that management has attempted to partially control how their employees utilize their personal social media accounts.

According to the NewsGuild of New York, BuzzFeed politics reporter Ema O'Connor – who is also on the bargaining committee for the union – said, "Management is touting BuzzFeed as the future of digital media, while at the same time proposing to control our personal online activity."

Workers want living wages and creative freedom

BuzzFeed News writers walked out to remind management that there is no BuzzFeed without its employees.
BuzzFeed News writers walked out to remind management that there is no BuzzFeed without its employees.  © 123RF/gilc

The BuzzFeed News Union also claimed that under the currently suggested contracts, employees would be required to get approval for any outside "content work" they wanted to do, whether it be a makeup tutorial on TikTok or an outfit of the day series on Instagram.

"We live a large part of our lives online, especially in the ongoing pandemic, and BuzzFeed management is trying to stake out ownership over those lives, our free time, and hobbies," the BuzzFeed News Union said.

The union's statement shines a light on another policy regarding BuzzFeed News writers' being disciplined for not hitting certain traffic or revenue metrics.

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"Page views and clicks are not something an individual employee can control and are often influenced by social media algorithms and reader biases," BuzzFeed News Union members said. "We believe when you come to BuzzFeed News, you should be able to trust that we are motivated not by clicks, but by honest reporting."

During their walkout, the BuzzFeed News Union hosted a Spaces conversation on Twitter where several union members and organizers spoke out about why they felt personally compelled participate.

Jon Schleuss with the NewsGuild of New York said, "We can't accept what the company wants to do, which is to actually discipline workers if they don't get a certain click threshold. That is totally inappropriate. They need to up the pay to a living wage in these cities. They gotta do better to meet the fact that inflation is skyrocketing."

Politics reporter Addy Baird spoke on her frustration in waiting for a fair deal from management at BuzzFeed, saying, "We've been doing this for two years, and I am ready for a deal. You know, I think that the fact that this is happening today, the day that BuzzFeed shareholders are voting to take the company public, is really an important part of what we are doing."

She continued, "There is no future of media without the workers, and that future is only as strong as our contract. I know that everyone in this room knows it, but we need management to know that, too."

According to HuffPost, a spokesperson at BuzzFeed said a bargaining session is set for Tuesday, December 7, where they "hope the union will present a response on these issues."

Cover photo: Collage: 123RF/jezper & prima91

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