Dec 2, 2021 - Economy

BuzzFeed News union members plan walkout for same day as SPAC IPO vote

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Members of BuzzFeed News' union said they plan to walk out on the job at noon Thursday, the same day shareholders will vote on whether or not to take BuzzFeed public via a SPAC IPO.

Why it matters: Digital media companies are anxiously eyeing BuzzFeed's expected public debut to see whether the market responds positively to a digital media firm trading publicly. Pressure from its news union could complicate that process.

Catch up quick: BuzzFeed News employees voted to unionize with the NewsGuild of New York in February of 2019, following mass layoffs.

  • At the time, union members said that they have "legitimate grievances about unfair pay disparities, mismanaged pivots and layoffs, weak benefits, skyrocketing health insurance costs, diversity and more."
  • Union members say they are walking out now after "fighting for two years to reach a fair union contract."

By the numbers: About 60 BuzzFeed News union members will participate in the walkout, per a source familiar with the plans. BuzzFeed as a whole, including HuffPost, is around 1,100 employees.

  • BuzzFeed is expected to close on a deal to merge with Complex Networks, a lifestyle and entertainment media company, this week. If it merges with Complex Networks, it will have around 1,400 employees.

Details: In a statement, the NewsGuild said union workers are walking off the job "with 100% participation" Thursday to put pressure on management to negotiate better contract terms over things like "adequate pay raises, affordable health care, a sensible outside work policy, and reasonable discipline standards."

  • The union will share testimonials from unit members via its Twitter account, @BuzzFeedUnion, "about why they’re walking out and the value the union has already demonstrated to them," per a statement. It will also hold a virtual rally on Twitter Spaces from the @BuzzFeedUnion, accounts at noon ET.
  • The union is asking for a 1% guaranteed wage increase per year and a salary floor of $50,000.
  • A source familiar with the negotiations between management and the union says the two groups are meeting every other week and are currently exchanging counters on wage economics.

What they're saying: “Management is touting BuzzFeed as the future of digital media, while at the same time proposing to control our personal online activity,” politics reporter Ema O’Connor said in the Newsguild press statement announcing the walkout.

  • In a statement, the union said BuzzFeed management has "dug in on a proposal regulating the creative work many of us do outside of our jobs, and it's more restrictive than the current policy."
  • "The proposal would require that union members get approval to so any outside 'content' work — including pitching a freelance article that falls outside of your newsroom beat, writing a personal Medium post about your mental health, posting outfits on Instagram, or even doing a makeup tutorial on TikTok."

A spokesperson for BuzzFeed said that there's "a bargaining session planned for next Tuesday where we hope the union will present a response on these issues."

  • "Before then, the company is gearing up for an incredibly exciting milestone: becoming the first publicly traded digital media company, and acquiring Complex Networks. We couldn’t be more excited about everything that lies ahead for BuzzFeed and its employees.”

The big picture:  The pandemic has triggered a massive uptick in news media unionization efforts, especially among newer digital-first media companies that are at risk of being consolidated.

  • Last week, The New York Times' products review site Wirecutter planned a five-day walkout during its busiest time of the year in an effort to get management to negotiate wage increases.

What's next: If all goes according to plan, both the SPAC merger and BuzzFeed's $300 million acquisition of Complex Networks would close by the end of the day Friday. The company would then begin trading on Dec. 6.

Go deeper: Media startups anxiously await BuzzFeed's stock market debut

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