The BuzzFeed union has approved a strike, a NewsGuild spokesperson announced this afternoon. The newsroom shop voted in a bargaining session midday Tuesday, in a meeting attended by 90 percent of its 61-person membership. Of those members present, 91 percent voted in favor of the strike.
The vote, which authorizes the BuzzFeed bargaining committee to call a strike if BuzzFeed management “continue bargaining in bad faith,” comes a week after BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti announced the company was planning cuts across BuzzFeed News and Complex editorial. Not long after the call, CNBC reported that shareholders had been pressuring Peretti to shutter the newsroom entirely. And shortly after that, Peretti fled a BuzzFeed all-hands meeting just as it opened up for questions.
“Management brought this on themselves,” political reporter and BuzzFeed union unit chair Addy Baird told Gawker about the strike vote. “They dropped a bomb on us trying to eliminate a third of our newsroom more than 2 years into contract bargaining, fully the 11th hour, when we were almost done. They made this choice. We’re not calling a strike now, but we are willing, able, and ready to do so if that becomes necessary.”
Peretti broke the news of the cuts on BuzzFeed’s Q4 earnings call, their first since the company went public last fall. The staff trims would come in the form of voluntary buyouts, rather than layoffs, and would impact about 25 roles — or some third of the union unit. But in an email to the unit membership obtained by Gawker, the BuzzFeed union argued that the reason Peretti had announced voluntary buyouts, rather than layoffs, was not a nice gesture, so much as a tacit recognition that they couldn’t legally announce sudden layoffs.
“The fact that they aren’t just hitting us with layoffs right off the bat isn’t an act of benevolence, as they’ve implied,” the union wrote, “but actually because they can’t just decide to do layoffs on a whim anymore.”
The reason layoffs are illegal, the union argued, is because they have been negotiating their contract for two years. As a result, management can conduct layoffs only if they are provided for in the collective bargaining agreement (through a “Reductions in Force” provision) — which has not yet been ratified — or in the case of a “financial exigency.” BuzzFeed has already experienced one such exigency: at the beginning of the pandemic, when they laid off 50 employees, including 10 members of the union. And though Peretti did tell shareholders that BuzzFeed News was projected to lose money over the next year, management confirmed that this did not constitute an “exigency.”
“The company confirmed to us today that there is not currently a financial exigency,” the union wrote in their email last week, “and while you’ve heard a lot about News ‘losing money’ the truth is — as we all know! — News has always run at a loss. What’s wild is that we are running at a smaller loss now than ever before.”
Last week, the NewsGuild filed an unfair labor practice against BuzzFeed over their bargaining tactics. “BuzzFeed News Union members are ready to do whatever it takes to ensure their Pulitzer-prize-winning newsroom continues to operate with integrity,” NewsGuild President Susan DeCarava said in the announcement. “Their nearly 5,000 Guild colleagues stand with them.”