NUJ members and other staff at Buzzfeed are voting on whether or not the NUJ should be the recognised trade union for some staff. The members have gone through an extended process with the Central Arbitration Committee to seek recognition.
One part of the process was to define the specific “bargaining union” – those workers who would fall under NUJ recognition. Frustratingly for some of our members, those journalists with US reporting lines were excluded. Included are the editorial staff working on the News and Buzz and staff supporting editorial work on the service desk with UK reporting lines. The full documentation from the process makes interesting reading.
Another factor that has influenced the process was the staff cull at the start of the year. The NUJ criticised the lack of consultation when the company decided to make 23 editorial roles redundant. Fewer journalists means fewer people taking part in the ballot.
Because of the relatively small numbers involved, every vote counts. One or two votes either way could decide the issue.
There are a couple of things that I think members at Buzzfeed should think about. The first is to put to bed the management myth that the NUJ “are not used to innovative, digital workplaces…” (as Vice EMEA chief executive, Matt Elek, said in 2016). On the contrary, apart from organising the web departments of major employers like the BBC, Guardian, RTÉ and the Irish Times since the end of the ‘90s, back in 2005, the NUJ went through a similar recognition process at AOL UK (then part of Time Warner).
Time Warner was very much an anti-union company and fought tooth and nail in CAC to block recognition. They failed. Almost immediately, the management attitude changed and they started working with the union. When cuts came down from on high (also known as the US), management and the union often came together to reduce their impact.
That’s the second thing to consider. Unionising a workplace changes the dynamic in the workplace. While the power is never equal, organised workers rebalance things more than a little. As a US-owned company, London-based management are likely to experience the same kind of top-down orders as AOL UK did ten years ago and management will probably find that it’s in their interests to work with the union.
The NUJ is part of the International Federation of Journalists, a global organisation of journalists’ unions. As a result, the NUJ’s reach can be much wider than managements expect. Al-Jazeera has discovered that twice in recent years – when the NUJ played an important role in helping to getting their journalists released from Egyptian prisons in 2014 and again last year when Qatar was blockaded and there were demands to shut down Al-Jazeera and other outlets.
The NUJ is not an outside organisation at Buzzfeed. The NUJ is a trade union and is made up of its members. The NUJ wants to empower its members in Buzzfeed and to welcome a recognised chapel in Buzzfeed into the NUJ’s decision-making structures. We’re here for you.
Dear Buzzfeed members: Vote yes, for yourselves.
More on the NUJ website: