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msnbc 2020 debate

The stage is prepared for the Democratic Presidential Debate hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, Georgia, on November 19, 2019. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

MSNBC Declines to Voluntarily Recognize Newsroom Union Effort

Organizers said that "we want to support one another and make this an even better place to build a career."

Jessica Corbett

As current and former employees, media colleagues, and labor rights advocates on Thursday celebrated an announcement that MSNBC's workers have decided to form a union, the cable news channel's president made clear that leadership won't voluntarily recognize the effort.

"At a time when journalists and journalism itself are under siege, we want to join our peers who have paved the road before us in standing up for our rights."
MSNBC bargaining unit

MSNBC is owned by a division of NBCUniversal, which is a subsidiary of Comcast. In a series of tweets, the editorial staff of MSNBC and The Choice—a news channel on the streaming service Peacock—said that over 200 workers have signed a union petition to join the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE).

"We are organizing to advocate for equal pay for equal work; diversity at every level of production; clear job descriptions and access to career development; a say in the post-Covid-19 workplace; and fair compensation for the hours we all spend to deliver the news," organizers said.

"We are standing up for each other and our work—because this is who we are," organizers added. "After 10 months of organizing, we are asking for voluntary recognition of our union and look forward to constructive negotiations with MSNBC and Comcast for a fair contract. #ThisIsWhoWeAre."

The tweets echoed a lengthy statement from the MSNBC bargaining unit shared by WGAE, which said in part that "at a time when journalists and journalism itself are under siege, we want to join our peers who have paved the road before us in standing up for our rights."

"We are proud that the hard-working newsroom employees at MSNBC decided to unionize with the WGAE," said Lowell Peterson, the union's executive director. "They join thousands of their colleagues in the news and entertainment industries who recognize that collective bargaining is the most effective way to win a voice at work and to build sustainable careers."

WGAE represents about 7,000 workers, including newsrooms at ABC News, Bustle, CBS News, Fast Company, HuffPost, The Intercept, Salon, Slate, VICE, and Vox as well as Gizmodo Media Group and Hearst Magazines.

"We hope and expect MSNBC to remain true to its commitment to progressive values by respecting its employees' decision and recognizing our union promptly."

Rashida Jones, president of MSNBC, said Thursday in a statement to the New York Times that "we're looking forward to continuing the type of direct, open, and honest communication that has already resulted in meaningful change at the network."

In a message to employees that circulated on social media, Jones said that the network will not recognize the union without a secret ballot election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB.)

"I respect our employees' right to decide whether they want to be represented by a union, and I believe our employees should be able to make such an important decision through a standard election process," she said.

"An election supervised by the government allows all affected employees the chance to express their view on unionizing through a secret ballot," Jones added. "It is important to give everyone who would be included the chance to understand what this would mean before making their choice."

The Hill noted that "unions have long criticized requests for NLRB secret ballot elections as being designed to give management opportunities to dissuade employees from joining the union."

MSNBC show hosts Chris Hayes and Joy-Ann Reid expressed support for the union effort on Twitter:

Others in the media industry, including former MSNBC employees, highlighted pay concerns among off-camera workers and called the union effort "overdue."

The American Federation of Teachers—the nation's second-largest education union—and the Labor Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives also expressed support for the organizing at MSNBC:

Andrew Joyce, a segment producer at "The Rachel Maddow Show" who helped lead the MSNBC union effort, told the Times that "we as journalists believe that democracy works, as a nation, state, country, city or in a workplace; things work better when policies are made with input from the people."

The developments came as The New Yorker, Pitchfork, and Ars Technica unions announced that after more than two years of negotiations between the NewsGuild of New York and Condé Nast, they averted a strike and reached an agreement in principle on first contracts.

Congratulating the unions on "accomplishing a groundbreaking agreement that sets new standards for fair compensation, equity, and job security in our industry," president Susan DeCarava said that the NewsGuild of New York "is immensely proud of all that our members have achieved due to their unflinching solidarity and resolve in addressing long-standing inequities at Condé Nast."

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