On the same day shareholders voted for the enterprise to go public, employees protest over contract negotiations
Union members at BuzzFeed News, the company’s Pulitzer Prize-winning news division, walked off the job Thursday to raise awareness of ongoing issues with their contract negotiations.
The timing was strategic, as it was the same day that shareholders voted to take the 15-year-old digital media enterprise public. BuzzFeed closed its acquisition of Complex Networks, a joint media venture of Verizon and Hearst, on Friday, and the newly combined companies will start trading Monday under the ticker BZFD, CNN reported. Shareholders of 890 Fifth Avenue Partners, a special purpose acquisition company, approved the merger hours after the walkout.
The key sticking point is pay, according to the union, whose 61 members participated in the 24-hour protest. BuzzFeed proposed 1% guaranteed annual wage increases and a $50,000 minimum salary, which is unsustainable for employees living in major cities, such as Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York, where BuzzFeed has newsrooms, the union said. Additionally, that salary floor isn’t “enough to attract truly diverse talent,” especially with staffing shortages across the United States.
On top of the pay dispute, the union is fighting for creative control, arguing that BuzzFeed has proposed regulating the work employees do outside the office. “It would require that union members get approval to do any outside ‘content’ work: pitching a freelance article that falls outside your newsroom beat, writing a personal Medium post about your mental health, posting outfits on Instagram or even doing a makeup tutorial on TikTok,” the union said.
And then there’s the issue of discipline for lack of clicks. According to the union, BuzzFeed has repeatedly refused a proposal that union members not be “disciplined” over traffic or revenue metrics. The union argues that pageviews are often influenced by social media algorithms and readers biases, which are outside an individual’s control. “We believe when you come to BuzzFeed News, you should be able to trust that we aren’t motivated by clicks, but by honest reporting,” the union said.
“We've been bargaining our contract for almost two years, but BuzzFeed won't budge on critical issues like wages — all while preparing to go public and make executives even richer,” the union tweeted. “So TODAY, we’re walking out to send a reminder that there’s no BuzzFeed News without us.”
In an email to the media, a BuzzFeed spokesman said that the company would resume negotiations soon.
“There’s a bargaining session planned for next Tuesday where we hope the union will present a response on these issues,” the spokesperson wrote. “Before then, the company is gearing up for an incredibly exciting milestone: becoming the first publicly traded digital media company and acquiring Complex Networks. We couldn’t be more excited about everything that lies ahead for BuzzFeed and its employees.”
Strikes, walkouts and other forms of protest have been happening across all industries over the past few months during the Great Resignation, in which American workers are demanding higher wages, better conditions and more mobility while enduring the COVID-19 pandemic.