MEDIA

Al Jazeera America Digital Journalists Vote To Unionize

Another media company joins the wave of labor organizing.

NEW YORK -- Digital journalists at Al Jazeera America voted Tuesday to organize with the NewsGuild of New York, in an election prompted after the network did not voluntarily recognize the union.

Thirty-two employees voted in favor of unionizing, while five voted against. Al Jazeera America management initially contested the votes of an additional nine employees, arguing that they held supervisory positions and were thus ineligible to join a union. The network later relented on this point.

Al Jazeera America's digital journalists first announced plans to organize on Sept. 3, citing “a troubling lack of transparency" at their workplace, along with discrepancies in salaries and employee evaluations. Since management did not initially recognize the union, staffers cast votes through a process administered by the National Labor Relations Board.  

Al Jazeera America expressed support for the union following Tuesday's vote and said it would no longer challenge the nine employees' status with regard to union representation.  

"Our priority was to ensure that every employee of Al Jazeera America’s Digital Department could have a say about union representation and we respect the decision they have reached through this democratic vote," the network said in a statement. "We welcome the result of the election and now that the process has been completed we will not maintain our challenge to the status of the nine individuals in question. We warmly recognize them as members of the bargaining unit and we look forward to working with all our staff in an open and transparent manner." 

Alex Newman, an assistant multimedia editor at Al Jazeera America, said in a statement that Tuesday's vote "confirms what we already knew going into this process -- that we have overwhelming support in the newsroom for this union.

Tuesday's vote is only the latest in a series of similar moves at various digital media companies. In recent months, editorial staffers at Gawker, Salon, ThinkProgress and Vice Media have organized with the Writers Guild of America, East. Guardian US similarly teamed up with the NewsGuild. 

Employees at The Huffington Post have also held recent discussions about unionizing, as the International Business Times first reported Thursday. Arianna Huffington, HuffPost's editor-in-chief, said Friday that she supported employees' right to discuss organizing and that the company "will embrace whatever decision they make on this issue."

In a sign of the industrywide trends of which Al Jazeera America is now a part, journalists and labor organizers from around the country are meeting this weekend in Louisville, Kentucky, to work on building a nationwide coalition. 

Al Jazeera America digital workers said in a statement that they look forward to negotiating their first contract with management:

The staff of Al Jazeera America Digital is thrilled that today's vote affirms what we already knew: that the overwhelming majority of our newsroom supports organizing with the NewsGuild of New York. This gives all of us -- workers and management -- the opportunity to produce cutting-edge, award-winning journalism in a workplace committed to honesty, integrity and transparency.

 

We look forward to sitting down with management to negotiate our first collective bargaining agreement. Unfortunately, Al Jazeera has yet to demonstrate the same enthusiasm.

 

Management is trying to exclude nine of our colleagues from the union, asserting that they are ineligible ‘supervisors.’ These nine team leads and editors carry the same workload and burdens as other staff, but Al Jazeera persists in trying to prevent these workers from participating in the democratic process.

 

This year has brought union representation to the digital newsrooms of Gawker, The Guardian, Salon, ThinkProgress and Vice -- and at each of these, management realized the opportunities and benefits of embracing the will of its employees. We are disappointed that the leadership of Al Jazeera America chose a more oppositional path.

 

We who are tasked with telling the stories of our changing world must retain a voice ourselves. The smart and creative people committed to this mission deserve an environment that exemplifies the best practices of a modern, humane workplace and values diversity, equality and fairness.

This story has been updated to reflect Al Jazeera America's statement that it will not challenge the status of the nine employees it had previously singled out.

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