On Tuesday, February 12, Buzzfeed workers in the United States voted to unionize. In Toronto, a majority of the ten BuzzFeed Canada workers filed for union certification with the Canadian Media Guild (CMG), a local of the Communications Workers of America.
Media Workers Organize
The Toronto announcement, which came at the same time as Buzzfeed workers in New York City and Germany announced their successful certification, follows the recent push in the digital media industry towards unionization.
In 2016, workers at VICE Canada voted to join CMG. Workers at Buzzfeed’s Toronto office had been following VICE workers decision to unionize closely, and began having conversations with CMG last year to explore what joining the media union would mean for their workplace.
In January, BuzzFeed laid off 15% of its workforce globally, with just over 40 of the approximately 220 laid off workers being from the company’s news division. Workers based in the U.S. have been speaking out against the layoffs through social media and other news publications. The Buzzfeed layoffs are one part of over 2,000 U.S. media workers who lost their jobs last month.
One of the major issues that prompted Buzzfeed Toronto workers to revive their conversations with CMG was when Buzzfeed workers across the company became aware that only the laid off employees based in California were receiving their paid time off (PTO), where state law mandates it.
Following the layoffs, workers from Buzzfeed News’ Staff Council successfully collected 585 signatures across the company, demanding that management pay out the PTO owed to its employees. The lack of standardization in severance packages and communication of layoffs across the company are just one of the issues workers hope to address through a union.
“I know that for Canada, the layoffs were definitely part of a wakeup call, but not just within the company, within the media environment overall,” says Jane Lytvynenko, breaking news reporter with Buzzfeed’s Toronto office.
Among job security and protections for laid off workers, Buzzfeed employees hope to see pay equity, diversity, transparency, and protections for freelance and contract workers.
Currently, Buzzfeed is hiring two contract video positions for a project in the Toronto office. All ten employees working out of Toronto are on full-time contracts, but workers want to ensure that whoever is hired will not be on short term contracts indefinitely.
“We still have to negotiate this, but we know that this is a precarious industry for a lot of people. There’s so few full time jobs left we’re just trying to make sure that everyone who comes in after us, including freelance and contract workers are protected as well,” says Lauren Strapagiel, breaking news reporter.
While a past organizing drive at Buzzfeed in the U.K. had been unsuccessful, workers in both the U.S. and Germany have won voluntary recognition by the company. Although Toronto workers have yet to see a response to the application from headquarters, workers hope to see a similar positive response in Toronto as well.
“This is the best job that I’ve ever had, and I just want to ensure that I have a sustainable relationship with my employer. I mean we all do. We’re doing this from a very well intentioned place and we really all love working at Buzzfeed,” says Strapagiel.
Even though Buzzfeed Toronto workers have a good relationship with their employer, they recognize the importance of collective bargaining and are pushing to unionize in good faith. They hope that Buzzfeed will come to the table to address working conditions in a meaningful way.
“We’ve seen a lot of other newsrooms unionize and do so successfully and with a lot of excitement. I think the importance [of unionizing] is the ability to collectively bargain with management, especially at a time when the industry is so shaky and so unstable. For our newsroom, and newsrooms across North America to say we deserve the right to have a voice” says Lytvynenko.
Buzzfeed Canada workers will vote today, Feb. 20, to decide if they will be represented by CMG and join their counterparts in the U.S and Germany.