When staffers at the Huffington Post launched their unionization campaign in October, Arianna Huffington said the company would “fully support” its workers and “embrace whatever decision they make on this issue.” She has a strange way of showing it.
On December 1, HuffPo employees presented the company with signed union cards from an “overwhelming majority” of 350 staff members, and asked the company to recognize their union (which is the Writers Guild of America East, the same union that Gawker belongs to). That was the point at which a company that wanted to “fully support” and “embrace” its employees’ wishes would have done one simple thing: recognized the union, and got down to the business of negotiating a contract.
Instead, here is what the Huffington Post has done in the two weeks since workers asked for union recognition: nothing. They have not recognized the union. More to the point, they are actually fighting against staffers’ request to have a union made up of 350 people. In a statement this week, HuffPo staffers revealed that the company is trying to cut about 70 of the 350 employees out of the union, claiming they are “managers and therefore ineligible.”
In reality, a company that wants to “fully support” its employees’ demonstrated wish to unionize has wide leeway to agree on who will be in the union, based upon the wishes of employees. Top managers who have the final say on budgets and hiring and firing are generally excluded from unions, but lower or mid-level staffers who have some “management” or supervisory duties—like mid-level editors, for example—can be included, as long as the rest of their coworkers want them in and the company doesn’t try to act like dicks and dispute their eligibility. (At Gawker, site leads and lower-level staff editors are members of the union, and the company did not fight their inclusion.) What HuffPo appears to be doing now is not “embracing” its employees wishes, but instead engaging in a classic anti-union tactic: trying to squeeze as many people as possible out of the bargaining unit in order to make the union as small as possible.
The Huffington Post can agree to allow 350 employees to unionize if it wants to. It can voluntarily recognize the union and begin bargaining if it wants to. It is doing neither of these things. In response to questions from us, a company spokesperson would only say that their lawyers are negotiating with the union. Employees hope that the negotiations wrap up soon, but no one can say for sure. Arianna Huffington, a woman who has grown very rich as a liberal media icon, did not respond to multiple direct emails about the union delay.
If this is what it means for an avowedly left-wing media mogul to “fully support” her workers, we may have to rethink a few things.