Yesterday, after over 29 hours straight of negotiation, Vox Media Union employees reached an agreement for a collective bargaining contract with their employer. While 29 hours may sound like a rather long time—it is—Vox’s workforce has actually been seeking a union contract for over a year, since they organized with the Writers Guild of America East in January of 2018. The agreement came at the tail-end of an organized walkout of around 300 Vox Media Union members, an action taken as they were at the last day of bargaining. While this is a victory for these writers, it did not come without considerable resistance from upper management.
Take, for example, the about-face of Vox Media CEO Jim Bankoff. In an email to employees after the agreement, he stated that he was “thrilled” to see both sides reach a contract, and that he was “grateful” for the time and sacrifice to make Vox Media “even stronger.” Bankoff’s comments are gracious and supportive, but they sit uneasily next to his statement from not a day before: “…I’m disappointed that the union chose to [walk out] in the midst of good-faith bargaining, especially as progress was being made… While paying people a lot more than market wages sounds great on the surface, it’s not realistic or smart.” That’s awkward timing, for sure, but not nearly as awkward as Vox’s prior republishing of writer’s work without their consent in an attempt to pad for missing content during the walkout. In this context, Vox Media’s agreement with the Writers Guild of America East seems less like a harmonious first step into better conditions throughout the company, and more like the last possible option.
Vox Media follows Vice, Gizmodo, Thrillist, and Slate in the list of online publications reaching union agreements with employees. Gaming journalism is a profession that has grown largely during the rise of internet publications, and it has a similar penchant for young workers being paid lower, competitive wages. Unionization throughout online media companies has already affected and will continue to affect the lives of journalists covering the gaming industry.
Specific details on the contract have not been released yet, but the Vox Media Union Twitter account seems very pleased. Before an agreement was reached, however, the Writers Guild of America East was seeking “salary minimums, guaranteed annual cost-of-living increases, severance provisions and rules about the use of freelancers and subcontractors,” according to the Washington Post. Time will tell just how many of these were met.