Politico labor reporter Mike Elk broke some news yesterday on Twitter:
Precisely what news he was breaking remains to be determined. The Washington Free Beacon reported that “employees” at Politico are pushing to unionize the Rosslyn, Va.-based shop. However, it named only Elk as supporting whatever is afoot here.
As to Elk’s suggestion that he’s running into “almost no opposition” from Politico management, the reason for that could be that there’s little to oppose. In an interview yesterday, Elk told the Erik Wemple Blog that he’s strategizing with Bruce Jett, an organizing consultant at the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild. Jett told the Erik Wemple Blog that “There’s nothing to report” in terms of Politico activity.
As for his organizing efforts at Politico, Elk tells the Erik Wemple Blog that he has amassed “at least fifteen firm votes.” We then asked for names. Based on the responses that we received from several of these “firm votes,” “firm” is a subjective matter. Some didn’t respond, others disavowed anything approaching “firmness”; and one responded this way, “I think unionization’s a good idea and when mike gets a meeting together, I plan to show up.”
One staffer wrote, “There is no unionization drive, that I’m aware of. There’s just Mike Elk.” When asked whether Elk’s thing was a serious movement or just some noise, yet another staffer responded: “Headache.” Last Friday, Elk chatted up a “large number” of fellow staffers on unionization at Rosslyn’s Continental Pool Lounge, according to someone in attendance (not Elk). Even Elk concedes that supporters at this point consist of a “small group.”
The hiring of Mike Elk by Politico to assist the publication in building out its Politico Pro coverage of labor was among the more interesting moves in the publication’s eight-year history. For one, Elk had amassed a Twitter archive of anti-Politico thoughts. For example:
Also, Elk came from union roots. As he outlines in this piece for Huffington Post, he interned at a union, did some work for the 2008 Obama campaign and once lent his press credentials to a construction union leader, who used them to gain entrance to a mortgage-banking conference. “It was the mistake of a young reporter who hadn’t fully evolved to separate the values of a reporter from the values of a kid who grew up in a union household,” wrote Elk, who says he’s a fourth-generation union member.
Overwork is a problem that Elk plans on addressing in his union drive. “I can’t work the kind of hours I did when I was 24,” says Elk, who is 28. Putting in too many work hours, he says, is a problem of journalism as an industry and not exclusive to Politico. “Everyone works so much, it’s almost tough to get people to get together to talk about” forming a union, he says.
In addition to such logistical problems, Elk will have to clear other hurdles in organizing Politico. Though its reporters and editors do indeed work insane hours, Politico has a reputation for paying good salaries. In recent years, the Erik Wemple Blog has interviewed many of workers who’ve left Politico, and traditional union issues — pay, vacation, benefits and so on — have rarely figured into the discussions. Another impediment is mobility. In building an aggressive publication, Politico’s leaders have infused employment in Rosslyn with considerable cachet, as recent raiding expeditions by the New York Times, CNN and others have demonstrated. Frustrated employees who might be inclined to unionize can just as easily choose a new employer.