BuzzFeed's Jonah Peretti: Employees Would Have ‘Less Favorable’ Pay If They Unionized

He says a union "wouldn’t be very good for employees at BuzzFeed."
Jason DeCrow/Invision/AP

BuzzFeed founder and CEO Jonah Peretti said at a company meeting Thursday that while unions “had a positive impact on a lot of places -- like if you’re working on an assembly line,” he did not think unionizing would be “the right idea” for BuzzFeed, according to a report from BuzzFeed reporter Cora Lewis.

“A lot of the best new-economy companies are environments where there’s an alliance between managers and employees,” Peretti said. “A lot of times when you look at companies that have unionized, the relationship is very different. The relationship is much more adversarial, and you have lawyers negotiating for comp and looking at comparable companies and trying to keep compensation matched with other companies.”

The remarks come on the heels of unionization efforts at several digital-media companies. Gawker became the first new media outlet to organize in June, followed by Salon in July and The Guardian and Vice in August.

Peretti suggested BuzzFeed should style itself after places like Facebook and Google that compete for talent by offering employees lavish compensation and benefits. A union “wouldn’t be very good for employees at BuzzFeed -- particularly people who are writers and reporters,” Peretti said, “because the comps for writers and reporters are much less favorable than comps for startup companies and tech companies.”


That’s nonsensical. In fact, unionized workers tend to make more money and have better benefits than non-unionized workers. But even if that weren’t the case, there is nothing that says BuzzFeed would have to compensate its employees like underpaid writers and reporters at other outlets if the staff were to unionize.

The friction between management and a unionized staff typically comes when employees push for better compensation. If BuzzFeed indeed wants to provide generous salaries and benefits, it stands to reason the relationship between management and staff would be better than at places where the company tries to pay its employees as little as possible. And there are many unionized workplaces where the relationship between management and staff is good.

Peretti also said a union wasn’t necessary because the talent at BuzzFeed is less “replaceable.” But anyone who’s been in journalism for a considerable amount of time will tell you there’s quite a bit of turnover. Maybe employees at BuzzFeed have been convinced they’re part of a big, happy family, but the moment the company runs into financial trouble, some will be cut off like a gangrenous limb.

While there appears to be no active effort to organize the staff at BuzzFeed, management often tries to dissuade employees from unionizing -- using either the carrot or the stick approach. As much as Peretti may want to characterize unions as a relic of America's manufacturing past, the truth is that digital media is on its way to becoming a unionized sector of the economy. If he's truly interested in retaining talent, he should in fact welcome unionization, which also tends to reduce turnover.

Gabriel Arana is senior media editor at The Huffington Post.
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