Jun 30, 2022 - Economy

Exclusive: Wired’s union threatens to strike

Illustration of a fist holding a pencil.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

The union representing roughly 65 editorial workers at Wired, the tech publisher owned by Condé Nast, is threatening to strike for two days if it can’t reach a contract agreement with Condé Nast management by July 12 — the first of two digital shopping holidays known collectively as “Amazon Prime Days.”

Why it matters: The emloyees argue they aren’t being paid equitably despite the fact that their work helps drive some of the company’s most lucrative traffic days.

  • They also want management to recognize staffers that work on the company’s “Gear” product reviews section as part of the union.

Driving the news: High-profile writers are joining the union’s push, arguing Wired workers should be treated equally to those at other Condé Nast-owned publications, especially when it comes to rights over their work.

  • “While Condé Nast owns our work, it's fair practice to allow writers and creators to share in the bounty when the work they produce is resold to others — and the company has agreed to that principle by giving full-time New Yorker writers a piece of the action when their work is reprinted by others, or sold to filmmakers,” Steven Levy, editor at large at Wired and a contributor there since the magazine's 1993 launch, said in a statement provided to Axios by the union.
  • ”We've been asking for exactly the same terms that the New Yorker writers got in their contract, but Condé Nast won't even discuss this with us.”
  • “It's insulting to imply that Wired creators are less deserving than other Condé employees,” he said. “And it's not like our work isn't valued outside the company — a Wired story was the basis of a best-picture-of-the-year Oscar!"

Details: The workers are threatening a work stoppage on July 12 and 13, which are Amazon Prime Days. Those days typically drive a high volume of online shopping.

  • While the team prepares ample content leading up to the Prime Days holiday, a work stoppage means they wouldn’t update the site’s content, which could limit click-throughs by purchasers that provide the publication with referral revenue.
  • The workers are asking public supporters to sign a ”No contract, no clicks” pledge.
  • Matt Jancer, a staff writer who reviews outdoor gear, said via a union statement: ”Condé Nast tells us our work is important, but we’re willing to withhold our labor to ensure we receive a fair deal that reflects the significance of our efforts as we work 24 hours around the clock every Prime Day,” he said.

Catch up quick: The first union to come out of Condé Nast was on behalf of employees at The New Yorker in June 2018. Ars Technica and Pitchfork launched their own unions the following year. Wired voted to unionize in April 2020.

  • In January 2021, staffers at The New Yorker threatened to stage a virtual walkout over pay negotiations, but eventually struck a deal with management, avoiding a strike.
  • Pitchfork and Ars Technica have already ratified contracts with management. Workers at Wired argue there’s no reason their publication shouldn‘t be able to do the same.
  • Earlier this year, Condé Nast employees from publications that hadn’t yet unionized, including Vogue, Bon Appétit and others, formed a union representing around 500 editorial workers.
  • All Condé Nast unions are represented by the NewsGuild of New York.

Be smart: Shopping holidays have been used by recommendation site staffers to negotiate better pay terms in the past.

  • The New York Times' products review site Wirecutter held a five-day walkout, in an effort to bolster negotiations with management in 2021. The group struck a deal with management weeks later.

The big picture: Strikes and strike threats are increasingly being used in negotiations between editorial workers and management.

  • Journalists walked out at Miami Herald and sister papers in April amid union contract negotiations.
  • Bloomberg Industry Group’s editorial union staged a day-long demonstration in February.
  • BuzzFeed News union members walked out last year over contract terms. (The union and management eventually agreed to a deal in March.)
  • The union representing some editorial and video staff at Vox Media threatened to strike last month but was able to negotiate a contract with management ahead of the deadline.

What’s next: “We are ready and available to bargain any time and, if necessary, that will continue to be true after Prime Day,“ said Lily Newman, a senior writer at Wired.

Go deeper