Fusion Staff Seeks Unionization in Face of Rapid Change

By Allen Smith, J.D. Oct 28, 2016
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Rapid change is common in the business world today and an increasingly frequent reason for employees to unionize, a recent organizing drive shows.

Job responsibilities can change very quickly in the world of digital journalism, noted a statement by employees at Fusion who are seeking to organize.

"However, it is important to clearly communicate shifts in editorial structure, priorities and individual responsibilities," the statement added.

The employees want the company to voluntarily recognize the workers as members of the Writers Guild of America, East, through a majority of Fusion's employees signing union cards.

But Fusion is resisting such voluntary recognition, insisting instead on the decision being made from the privacy of a union election voting booth.

"We'll be sharing information directly with you and encouraging you to investigate and ask questions so that you have a complete picture on what Guild representation would mean," Boris Gartner, Fusion's co-president and chief operating officer, and Daniel Eilemberg, its co-president and chief content officer, told employees in an Oct. 5 e-mail obtained by BuzzFeed. "At the end of that process, we think you will agree that Guild representation would not be beneficial for you or Fusion."

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Preparing for the Possibility of Union Organizing]

David Ford, Fusion's vice president, marketing and communications, said in a statement that the company is "dedicated to providing an environment where all of its employees can thrive. We respect the right of our employees to choose whether to unionize and will be discussing this important decision directly with them."

Fusion employees sought a response from Fusion management by Oct. 26 on the request for voluntary recognition in a subsequent letter obtained by The Huffington Post to Isaac Lee, CEO of Fusion. They noted that, in spite of their Oct. 5 announcement that a majority of Fusion's digital editorial staff had signed union cards, Fusion's management "has largely ignored our request for voluntary recognition, unlike every other digital media union that has sought recognition with the Writers Guild."

List of Demands

In the Fusion Organizing Committee's statement, the employees called for:

  • An equitable and transparent compensation policy, including salary minimums for all positions and a standard for raises.
  • Clear standards for hiring, firing and disciplinary actions.
  • Clear processes by which the company seeks to increase the diversity of its employees and ensure more opportunities for women and minorities to advance within the company.
  • Training programs.
  • Editorial freedom and independence.
  • Sustainable career paths, including supportive family-leave policies, paid-time-off policies, and preserved benefits such as health care and retirement.

Reasons for Organizing

Rapid change is "definitely one of the reasons" for union organizing, said Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of Labor Education Research with the Cornell School of Industrial and Labor Relations in Ithaca, N.Y.

However, she added that change is "not the only reason. My research has consistently shown that whether you are a writer or a warehouse worker, the primary issues that drive workers to organize center around fairness and respect and dignity."

"Figuring out how you can get your employees to see the benefit in change is really hard," said Mark Neuberger, an attorney with Foley & Lardner in Miami. "It's a long-term process because fundamentally most people don't like change."

Phil Wilson, president and general counsel of the Labor Relations Institute, a consultancy based in Broken Arrow, Okla., said slowing down change can prove detrimental to companies.

"In spite of all their campaign promises to the contrary, unions can't slow down change or protect jobs," he said. "For example, Al Jazeera America employees unionized and then their company promptly went bust. Gawker union members faced the same fate."

He added, "After all, 'slowing down change' basically means preventing a company from being agile and competing in a fast-changing marketplace. They have a name for companies like that: out of business."

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