Aug 4, 2021 - Economy

Scoop: Politico staffers mount unionization effort

Politico magazines

Photo: Wolfgang Kumm/picture alliance via Getty Images

Members of Politico's newsroom are actively mounting an effort to unionize with the NewsGuild, sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: Politico's newsroom is one of the largest newsrooms to have resisted organizing efforts in the past. A successful unionization drive would be a major win for newsroom labor groups.

In response to this story, Politico spokesperson Brad Dayspring said Politico publisher Robert Allbritton "understands that the decision to form a union is the choice of the newsroom employees who would be impacted by it, and POLITICO would respect the process and the majority decision of those employees."

Behind the scenes: Union organizers have been conducting informational sessions with various editorial teams about the effort.

  • Organizers are currently trying to gather signatures for a statement to present to management in the coming weeks asking for recognition of the union.
  • The union drive covers employees of Politico and E&E News, an energy and environment trade publication that Politico acquired last year, according to a Politico staffer. Politico added about 65 reporters and editors via that deal. There are about 375 editorial staffers at both Politico and E&E total.
  • A source says the integration of E&E News has been a factor in the push to unionize. Politico's management recognizes that the acquisition — occurring during a period of remote work — presents cultural challenges, according to one source, but that the company is heavily invested in growing that business.
  • A source says Politico has continued to fill open positions at the publication since it was acquired and that some staffers from E&E have received merit pay increases.
  • Sources say conversations have recently become very active. While there seems to be an appetite for the effort internally among several editorial employees, at least two Politico sources Axios has spoken to say they aren't in favor of the effort, citing good relationships with management.

Driving the news: Sources say several factors have pushed employees to seek union support when bartering with management, including the company's handling of internal pushback against having Daily Wire editor Ben Shapiro guest host Politico's flagship newsletter product, Playbook, earlier this year.

  • Two staffers Axios has spoken to that do not support a unionization effort say they are skeptical of any union efforts being motivated by editorial skirmishes with leadership.
  • One staffer says that they support the way management handled that situation, and that management has continued to show strong leadership within the newsroom despite the recent departure of Politico's editor, Carrie Budoff Brown.
  • Sources say that internally, Budoff Brown was a highly regarded figure who editorial staffers trusted would look out for their best interests in disputes with management.
  • Another possible factor could be the desire to be more engaged in benefits discussions, as Politico is currently reviewing its leave policies as it adapts to a new hybrid work environment. The company recently said it will offer 24 weeks of paid leave for all family expansions, doubling its former policy.

Be smart: Politico's management has been offering performance raises to various teams, according to two Politico staffers. One notes that some people feel that the raises could possibly be an effort to dissuade employees from unionizing.

  • A source disputes the notion that a review of benefits and performance raises are in response to any union pressure, as both are ongoing processes that have occurred over the course of several years.
  • "Robert deeply believes in journalists and journalism, and has always thought of POLITICO as a family," Dayspring says.
  • "Unlike many owners in the media space, he has open lines of communications with reporters and employees at POLITICO. He sends emails to the newsroom from his personal account, and often engages with reporters this way—particularly in the remote work environment," Dayspring adds.

The big picture: The COVID-19 crisis has triggered a massive uptick in news media unionization efforts, amid record consolidation and tumult.

  • So many digital newsrooms have pushed to unionize lately that the Writers Guild has had to put a pause on organizing digital newsrooms.

Go deeper: Record number of journalists unionize during COVID

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