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BuzzFeed votes to unionize after layoffs

Posted at 7:07 PM, Feb 12, 2019

After a crushing round of layoffs that sent shockwaves through the newsroom, BuzzFeed's editorial staff announced on Tuesday that they have formed a union to grapple with the threats looming over the media industry.

Employees have informed BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith of their intentions, according to the NewsGuild of New York — the union with which BuzzFeed is organizing. NewsGuild said that more than 90% of "eligible editorial employees signed on to the union effort."

In a statement Tuesday, Smith said, "We look forward to meeting with the organizers to discuss a way toward voluntarily recognizing their union."

BuzzFeed, once a darling in the digital media space, laid off 15% of its workforce last month . Employees took to Medium to write an open letter to the company's leadership team to express anger over BuzzFeed's decision not to pay laid-off staffers for earned paid time off. CEO Jonah Peretti eventually relented after the backlash .

However, it appears that the effort to unionize started before the latest round of cuts, with the NewsGuild calling it a "months long organizing drive." Included in the demands are PTO payouts, reasonable severance and due process for termination — a list that shows that staffers are bracing for more turmoil.

Albert Samaha, an investigative reporter at BuzzFeed, said in a press release on Tuesday that he and colleagues were motivated by the increased tumult in the news media industry — a lack of stability that was accentuated last month when BuzzFeed and other publications suffered deep and severe cuts.

"This is a turbulent time in our industry, and we've seen that our company and our management can only do so much to protect us from the broader economic forces shrinking the media landscape," Samaha said.

BuzzFeed joins a host of other digital media shops that have unionized in recent years, but staffers there could face a stiffer test in gaining recognition from management. Jonah Peretti, the co-founder and CEO of BuzzFeed, has said in the past that he doesn't think unions are "right" for the company.

Peretti did not immediately respond a request for comment.