Writers and editors at Gawker Media have approved the terms of a new contract negotiated on their behalf by the WGA East, making Gawker the first digital news site to fall under the jurisdiction of a union contract. Several other digital media companies, including the Huffington Post, Salon and Vice Media, have agreed to negotiate with the guild, and the Gawker deal is expected to be the blueprint of all future deals.
The deal, which the union says was approved overwhelmingly by the 99-member editorial staff, establishes a $50,000 minimum starting salary, a minimum $70,000 a year for senior writers and editors and a minimum of $90,000 for deputy editors and editors-in-chief. It also provides for 3% annual pay raises and “locks in” the company’s existing health and 401(k) benefits but does not put the staff under the WGA’s pension and health plans.
“The union was able to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement founded on the principles of consistency and transparency,” said WGA East executive director Lowell Peterson. “This agreement demonstrates that unionization gives digital media employees a real and effective voice in decisions that affect their careers.”
The deal also provides for a minimum of two months’ severance pay and two months of health benefits in layoffs; the right of staff members to publish books based on their work at Gawker; and, beginning next year, equal pay for night and weekend contractors after they have been working for at least one year. Full-time contractors have to be put on staff after one year unless the company decides to stop using them altogether. The contract also requires that the company meet regularly with a union committee to discuss diversity in the work place, and safeguards editorial independence by requiring that all decisions about what to post can be made only by the editors, and that removing stories from the site requires a majority vote of the CEO, the executive editor and the general counsel.
“At the onset of this process,” the Gawker negotiating committee said, “we said our priorities were to preserve the good things at Gawker against unilateral change, which we have done with health, dental, vision, and 401(k) benefits and with paid time off; to establish clear understandable rules for pay and benefits, which we have done with defined pay increases, minimums, and benefit protections; to improve transparency, which we have done with the right to meet with the company on editorial policy, corporate policy, and diversity; and to address concerns about editorial independence, which we won with new procedural protections. And we have broken new ground by gaining book rights to material people create for the company and by winning important protections for contractors. We joined together to ensure we have a voice, representation, and respect in the workplace and in our profession. We believe this contract is an important advance.”