BuzzFeed Bosses Flat-Out Stood Up Their Union Today


Where in the world is BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti?

I don’t know where he was today. It’s a Wednesday, so I’m assuming he was at work, or doing work somewhere. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what a media CEO does all day, as the only work-related things I’ve seen them do are hold meetings and fire people.

One of the meetings Peretti—or someone representing him, at the very least—was supposed to have today was with the organizing committee for the BuzzFeed News Union, which has been seeking voluntary recognition by management for more than seven weeks. Jonah is based in L.A., so he might have had to dial in for an early meeting on the West Coast—no one likes 9 a.m. meetings!

Maybe a better question is: Where is BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith? I’m sure he’s also busy. He’s based in New York, and it’s a very busy city, you see. Sometimes you can’t make it to everything. That meeting I mentioned? Ben didn’t make it either, so the union was left high and dry:

So where was absolutely anyone from BuzzFeed management? According to a statement put out by the union, Human Resources head Lenke Taylor only emailed the committee five minutes after the three-hour meeting was supposed to start to say they weren’t coming. Nobody showed up except the union committee, some of whom apparently had to take time off of work to attend:

The sticking point, per the union’s tweets, has been management refusing to recognize a general editorial unit, preferring instead to recognize a unit made of specific job titles, like all “staff writers, editors, news editors, senior reporters, etc.” This would seem like an easy way to force people out of the union by simply changing their titles, and it’s a sticking point the union wanted to discuss with management at the meeting they deigned not to show up to. Seems rude!

According to an email the union reps sent to their colleagues, Peretti has passed the buck on all union matters to Smith, who has “deferred to the company’s lawyers.” (You can read the union’s full message at the end of this post.)

I emailed Peretti, Smith, and Taylor to ask what their schedules were like today and where they were instead of meeting with the union. I’ll update this post if I hear back.

Update, 6:14 p.m. ET: A statement from a BuzzFeed spokesperson to Splinter didn’t offer much insight:

BuzzFeed has made specific, reasonable offers (and concessions) with the goal of voluntarily recognizing a BuzzFeed News union. We hope the union will return to discussing specific titles and positions – the subject of weeks of negotiations – rather than focusing on an area where we continue to disagree.

But in an email sent to the the U.S. News division, Tanya Carroll, BuzzFeed’s senior director of “People,” blamed the union for “changing the terms of discussion” ahead of the meeting:

Hi all,
Today, we were expecting to hold our 4th meeting with the BuzzFeed News organizing committee and the NewsGuild. Since our March 21 meeting, during which we were able to engage productively with employee representatives, we’ve been expecting to receive specific information about concerns the Union and employee representatives had. Last Friday, we even received an email from the Union about specific individuals, some of whom we addressed in an email yesterday, while conveying our intent to address the remaining individuals at today’s meeting.
However, this morning before today’s meeting, the Union sent us an email insisting that we drop our discussion of individual positions and move to negotiating a broad, abstract bargaining unit—changing the terms of discussion. This stance would have reversed weeks of progress and, we determined, did not set the table for a productive meeting today. For that reason, we asked that the meeting be postponed until the Union had an opportunity to present us with specific concerns so we could further the progress.
BuzzFeed has a firm interest in productively engaging with the Union and our employee representatives to reach an agreement on a defined bargaining unit. However, the unit must be established based on an understanding of which titles are to be included/excluded. We’ve told the Union that we remain available, hope they share this objective, and look forward to working towards an agreement.

And here’s the union’s full statement:

Dear BuzzFeed News colleagues,
This email from Tanya is inaccurate in several ways. The terms of our discussion have not changed. We have never said that negotiations cannot include discussion of specific positions; in fact, we sent the company copious amounts of information (most recently, a seven-page analysis of those positions). Since the beginning of this process, the BuzzFeed News Union has been consistent that the union should be defined as an ‘editorial unit,’ something BuzzFeed has opposed. The email we sent this morning did not reverse any stance we’d taken earlier or the terms of our negotiation. We have email records showing all of this.
Here is what actually happened. The BuzzFeed News Union had a three-hour meeting scheduled today at noon with BuzzFeed’s HR and legal teams to continue discussing recognition of our bargaining unit. Five minutes after the meeting was supposed to start, we got an email from HR head Lenke Taylor saying BuzzFeed management was not going to show up.
This left Albert, Rachel, Julia R., Julia M., and Dom sitting in a conference room at the NewsGuild offices, along with our NewsGuild organizer and lawyer. Some of us had taken the day off for this meeting. It’s shocking to be stood up like this.
This meeting was a crucial opportunity to make progress in agreeing on a bargaining unit, after weeks of frustratingly slow communication with BuzzFeed. We’ve been ready to find solutions that work for everyone involved, and after our last meeting, we were optimistic that the company was ready too. Instead, they abandoned today’s negotiations.
The first step in unionizing is going public, which we did more than seven weeks ago. The second step is when the company voluntarily recognizes that union — which they must do before we can begin negotiating a contract. The fact that we still haven’t been recognized is extremely unusual, and far exceeds the 21-day average it has taken media companies to voluntarily recognize their unions in recent years, according to our analysis. This is clear union-busting.
The biggest sticking point has been the company’s opposition to an “editorial unit” — a recognition of the newsroom as a whole, rather than a list of specific titles. Recognizing an editorial unit is the industry standard across digital and print newsrooms and is a part of all NewsGuild contracts, from the New York Times, Daily Beast, Los Angeles Times, and New Yorker. We were ready to further discuss this issue, along with which employees should be included in the union, with management at today’s meeting.

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