Politico Employees Seek Union Vote, Claiming 80% Support
(Bloomberg) -- Journalists at Politico are petitioning the U.S. government for a vote on unionizing, days after they were acquired by German publishing giant Axel Springer SE.
On Friday employees are sending a letter to management requesting the company recognize the new Politico and E&E News Guild, called PEN Guild, while also filing for a National Labor Relations Board election in case that request is rebuffed.
“We seek equitable pay, a diverse and inclusive workplace, job protections for everyone and a voice in decisions that affect us all,” the journalists wrote.
The petition comes at a time when Axel Springer Chief Executive Officer Mathias Doepfner is facing fallout from misconduct allegations against a top editor in Germany. Julian Reichelt, editor of powerful tabloid Bild, was dismissed following a New York Times investigation this month.
U.S. labor law allows companies to recognize and negotiate with a union as soon as it has signed up a majority of the employees. If the business doesn’t voluntarily recognize them, workers can ask the government to schedule an election. That labor board election process can then mean weeks of legal wrangling over topics such as which workers should be eligible to vote — time companies often use to campaign against unionization.
In the letter the Politico and E&E journalists said they are proud of their “once-scrappy” publications’ accomplishments and acclaim, but “these achievements have not resulted in just conditions for everyone, and not all of us enjoy the same protections and perks,” they added.
Politico founder Robert Allbritton, who has stayed on as publisher after selling the company for at least $1 billion to Axel Springer, told employees in an August email that he hoped they’d conclude that “a union is not in the publication’s interests, our readers’ interests, or in the interests of individual employees.”
But Axel Springer’s news media president Jan Bayer took a more conciliatory tone at an all-staff Zoom meeting last week, telling Politico journalists that it’s up to them whether to unionize, and that the company is accustomed to dealing with unions. He said “we should take the drama out of it,” but it would be “really sad” if unionization slowed down decision-making and growth.
An Axel Springer spokeswoman said the company had nothing to add to Bayer’s comments.
The media industry has been swept by union organizing in recent years. NewsGuild has won collective bargaining rights at publications including the Los Angeles Times, the Guardian and Insider. The guild’s Washington-Baltimore affiliate, which Politico and E&E News staff are seeking to join, represents brands including the Washington Post as well as Bloomberg Industry Group, a subsidiary of Bloomberg LP.
Workers at Politico first contacted the guild last fall, and conversations among employees began in earnest in January, according to the union. Several employees supporting the effort said that their goal is to ensure that existing benefits remain in place and are more consistent throughout different newsrooms.
“We want to establish certainty and codify all of the things that we like about E&E into this new world order,” said Emma Dumain, a reporter for E&E News, an energy and environmental policy publication Politico acquired last year. “Politico and E&E employees share the same values about what they want in a workplace, no matter who’s owning us.”
“I do recommend that people work here, but I want to keep it that way,” said Politico agriculture reporter Ximena Bustillo, whose prior job was at a McClatchy Co. newspaper which unionized with the NewsGuild while she was working there. “Things don’t stay the same forever, so I want to make sure the good stays.”
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