The editorial staff of the progressive news site ThinkProgress has joined the Writers Guild of America, East, making it the latest in a string of Web-based publications to unionize.
The union said in a statement late Wednesday that management at the site had chosen to voluntarily recognize the employees' decision, allowing them to forgo a secret-ballot election.
Support for the move was unanimous among staffers, according to the union. A highly trafficked site for left-leaning political news, ThinkProgress is part of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a political arm of the Center for American Progress think tank.
According to the union, staffers submitted a letter to Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, in which they noted that ThinkProgress and its parent organization have "long publicized the many benefits of unionization for individual workers, the middle and working class, and the economy as a whole.”
"Here at ThinkProgress, we believe having a union will help us protect and elevate the good conditions we currently enjoy in our workplace, both for ourselves and for all who come after us," the employees wrote.
Bryce Covert, ThinkProgress' economic policy editor, told The Huffington Post that staffers there wanted to embrace the values they espouse on the site, and to add some security to what they already consider good jobs.
"We are a progressive news site," Covert said. "I personally write all the time about the benefits of unions. The Center for American Progress has been a huge proponent of the value of unions and their impact on the economy as a whole. We're living our values by joining one."
Until not long ago, Web-based media was generally a union-free world, unlike legacy U.S. newspapers, which are heavily unionized. In a matter of months, WGAE has organized editorial employees at Gawker, Salon and Vice. Another union, the NewsGuild, has successfully unionized the U.S. employees of the Guardian. Digital journalists at Al Jazeera America also announced their intentions to unionize with the NewsGuild, though management there has not yet voluntarily recognized the union.
In their letter to Tanden, ThinkProgress employees said all of those other campaigns were an inspiration for their own.
Lowell Peterson, WGAE's executive director, said many of the digital media workers the union has organized so far have been generally satisfied with their jobs. What's united the various campaigns, he said, is a desire among employees to have a collective voice and a contract "that will protect them if things change."
"In all of the shops, the editors and writers and producers are keen to having some structure that will give them a seat at the table," Peterson said. "If things change, for the good, with new investments, or the bad, in the sense of a downturn, they want to be active participants in how those decisions get made."
"This might sound exaggerated," Peterson added, "but they feel they are participating in history. That this momentum of expanding collective bargaining in digital media is something that's important and they are eager to be part of it."
Judd Legum, ThinkProgress' editor and founder, said the staff let him know there was majority support for the union, "and we were happy to accept that." The announcement, Legum said, got him thinking about the site's early days, when it was "three people sitting around a desk." He took the staff's desire to unionize as a sign of the site's growth and maturity.
"It represents a buy-in, by the staff, of the institution itself," Legum said. "That's one thing I try to do -- get people bought in, to stay here and do better work."
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