Struggling Unions Seeking New Members Target Online Media

(Bloomberg) -- Journalists at a prominent legal news website voted to authorize a strike, escalating the conflict between a convulsive digital media industry and a U.S. labor movement that’s made the sector a target.

Employees of Law360, a unit of LexisNexis, voted two years ago to unionize but have been unable to secure a contract. On Tuesday night, they voted 141 to 11 to greenlight a work stoppage, according to the Communications Workers of America’s NewsGuild.

“It’s the most serious action that we could take, and although we don’t want to and we’re not planning to, we just want the company to know that we’re willing to if it comes to that,” said Law360 reporter and local union leader Juan Carlos Rodriguez. “They’ve just been dragging their feet.”

Spokespeople for LexisNexis and parent company RELX Group didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. RELX boasts 30,000 employees and a market capitalization of $38.6 billion. The company said it provides information and analytics for customers in 180 countries.

In 2016, Law360 employees voted 109 to 9  to unionize, part of a continuing wave of labor organizing at online media outlets. The effort is being driven by industry turbulence, a need to expand in the face of anti-union campaigns and media brands’ greater sensitivity to workplace controversy. In recent years, the NewsGuild has secured union recognition at outlets such as the Guardian and the Daily Beast as well as the Los Angeles Times, while the Writers Guild of America, East has had success at publications including Gizmodo Media Group, the HuffPost and Vice Media.

Prior to the government-supervised election at Law360, management there brought in anti-union consultants who told employees that unions mean costly dues, are difficult to get rid of once voted in and might approve contracts that employees don’t like, according to recordings obtained by HuffPost. A Law360 spokesman said at the time that the company respects employees’ rights and that the meetings were meant “to make sure they make an informed and educated decision after getting both sides of the story.”  Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, competes with LexisNexis as a provider of legal information.

The guild said the vote was triggered by the company’s alleged intransigence on contract issues such as job security and paid holidays. Also at issue was a management proposal to let the company inspect journalists’ personal electronic devices, according to the union. Along with threatening a strike, the NewsGuild has begun seeking support from Law360 subscribers, including law firms, urging them to contact management.

In a September letter to Law360 executives, a copy of which was provided to Bloomberg, Brian LaClair, a partner at the law firm Blitman & King who represents unions and employees, wrote that he was “astonished” that the success Law360 employees helped create for the company “has not yet led to the kind of working conditions that the staff deserves.”

The union declined to say how soon it might call a strike or how long one might last. A pair of brief midday walkouts over the summer have helped get the company to budge at the bargaining table, the News Guild’s New York President Grant Glickson said.

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