That was quick. Just a month ago, staffers at the Huffington Post went on a tweet binge expressing their displeasure that management, in their ongoing talks to bang out a collective bargaining agreement, advanced a proposal with no pay raises. “What we got was a proposal from management with no raises in the contract. We said, ‘You can’t be serious about that’ and they said, ‘Yes, we are,’ ” Lowell Peterson, executive director of the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) told the Erik Wemple Blog at the time.
Today the WGAE is announcing that the Huffington Post editorial staffers have almost unanimously ratified a collective bargaining agreement. What about pay? “The contract guarantees that no unit member will receive less than a 3% per year increase, and many will receive substantially more,” reads a release from WGAE, which also represents digital editorial types at Vice, Gizmodo Media Group, Fusion, The Root, ThinkProgress and Salon. That’s not all, either: Because the contract institutes pay minimums for job titles, some editorial workers will receive boosts of $10,000, and even up to $20,000, over the course of the agreement. There are more than 200 Huffington Post employees covered by the contract.
Asked how the progress on pay materialized so quickly, Peterson noted, “Two main factors: First, unit employees mobilized quickly and effectively in December. Second, we were able to structure a pay package that emphasized minimum pay rates, which corrected some important inequities and below-market rates. So, a combination of energized mobilization and thoughtful negotiation.”
Says Dave Jamieson, a member of the bargaining committee, “They heard us.” (Disclosure: Jamieson is a former colleague and a friend.)
One noteworthy provision of the three-year agreement is a legacy of departed Huffington Post top editor Arianna Huffington. She was famous for hatching all manner of partnerships with businesses that clouded the site’s editorial mission. In one episode reported by this blog, a story pitch critical of controversial ride-hailing service Uber was killed because of just such an alliance. Other conflicts concerned the sleep-and-feel-good companies that Huffington courted for her wellness coverage.
So important were these considerations that the first bullet point on the WGAE release addressed editorial independence: “Strong language protecting the integrity of members’ editorial work, ensuring that editorial employees cannot be assigned to work on branded content or native advertising, and protecting editorial content from interference by advertisers, sponsors and business partners – and a committee to enforce these protections.” (See below for these provisions.)
Jamieson tells the Erik Wemple Blog, “We feel it sets up some really strong firewalls that the company will be contractually bound to.” That, he says, will benefit the company as well as its editorial staffers. “It was very important to the employees at the Huffington Post. The company, to its credit, is not obligated to bargain over that stuff,” continues Jamieson. “There were concerns in the past, and that’s why people wanted it brought to the table.”
Huffington left the website late last summer — an exit that was preceded by the bargaining committee’s insistence on the importance of editorial independence provisions. She was replaced by Lydia Polgreen, a longtime staffer with the New York Times.
Here are those provisions:
1. Editorial Standards
a. All “Native Advertising and Branded Content” will be labeled and identified as such in accordance with applicable legal standards to ensure transparency to staff and readers. Bargaining unit members shall not be required to work on such Native Advertising and Branded Content; provided, however, that the Huffington Post reserves the right at all times to place editorial content on sponsored pages (e.g., “Brought to you by Pampers”, etc.), “built if sold” editorial projects (e.g. Next Level Living, Talk to Me, etc.) or any other distribution platforms (e.g., Snapchat pop-up channel, etc.). Native Advertising and Branded Content for the purposes of this agreement shall be defined as content such as custom articles, videos, listicles, quizzes, infographics, and photo galleries, that resembles news, feature articles, product reviews, entertainment and other material but is created specifically for an advertiser.
b. Editorial content decisions shall be made by editorial management and editorial staff (as appropriate) only (subject to legal and similar review and compliance). In addition, editorial content decisions, including taking down or modifying content, shall not be made to address the concerns of advertisers or business partners, except at the direction of editorial management and/or staff (as appropriate) in order to address updates or correct inaccuracies. This limitation shall not be construed to limit in any way sponsorships, “built if sold” projects, or other similar business development initiatives. Additionally, the Huffington Post reserves the right to manage and control the business strategy and editorial direction, including the right at all times to choose whether or not to direct resources to any aspect of the news gathering operation.
c. Bargaining Unit Members will not be required to work on projects produced solely for or by advertisers, business partners, sponsors and/or for individual members of Huffington Post management to the extent that such project involves work outside the manager’s employment responsibilities as reasonably assigned by the Company; provided, however, the Huffington Post reserves the right at all times to direct and control work that is, in any part, by or for the Huffington Post.
d. Huffington Post shall make information regarding the existence of all major platform deals (e.g., Chipotle, Clorox, Disney, etc.) available to bargaining unit employees.
e. There shall be an Editorial Standards committee consisting of four members of management and four members elected by the bargaining unit. This committee shall meet bi-monthly. The committee may discuss and address any topic relating to editorial standards and integrity relating to editorial content. Any concerns regarding a violation of the procedures and principles set forth in this paragraph shall be brought to the Editorial Standards committee for resolution, which shall be the sole method of resolution of such disputes and such disputes shall not be subject to the grievance and arbitration procedure of this agreement. The committee shall have the power to effectuate its decisions with regard to any alleged breach of paragraphs (a) through (d) of this Article 11.
f. Notwithstanding anything to the contrary, the provisions of this Article 11 shall apply only to journalistic positions and shall not apply to technical positions, such as video editors.