People Magazine’s digital staff seeks to end the ‘digital divide’ and join union

May 13, 2020 – The digital employees of People Magazine announced Wednesday that they are seeking voluntary union recognition from the Meredith Corporation, the magazine’s parent company, so they can join their print colleagues at People in the NewsGuild-CWA’s New York local.

Breaking down the “digital divide” would enable the digital staff to win access to the same robust negotiated benefits and protections their peers have garnered over the years, they said.

People Magazine has been a Guild-represented publication for more than four decades. In 2018, the Meredith Corporation paid $2.8 billion to acquire Time Inc., which included TIME, People, Fortune, Sports Illustrated and Money Magazine. The company sold off the other titles but retained People, noting the popularity and profits of the beloved brand.

However, the distinctive journalism for which People is known, while garnering increased site traffic and revenue for Meredith, has not led to professional gain for most digital employees, the workers said. Among other problems, staffers cited a lack of job security, minimal career development, an inequitable raise system and untenable editorial expectations as the primary causes for unionizing.

“My colleagues and I have been working with the print side of People Magazine for years to produce the best entertainment and human interest news in the U.S. and across the globe,” said Writer/Reporter Sam Gillette, who covers books. “After months-long discussions, the digital team has decided to move forward in asking for the same protections as the print union to ensure that we can continue to produce excellent content while protecting our colleagues and the publication. I’ve seen the passion and support Meredith has for the People brand and I hope that will continue with voluntary recognition of our union.”

Politics Editor Adam Carlson said, “Watching my digital colleagues organize the last few months amid such turbulence for our industry and the world – all while publishing, every single hour and every single day, the same striking storytelling that has earned us an international audience – has  never made me more certain: An expanded People union is not just good journalism,” said “It’s good business. And it will secure the brand’s future for another 46 years and beyond.”

“Since nearly its inception in 1974, People Magazine has been a proud Guild publication,” said Daniel Neuburger, the Guild’s People Magazine unit chair. “And while we have remained united, we’ve been missing a big part of our People family in our union. I’m thrilled that we finally get to welcome them. It has been inspiring to witness our digital and print staffers come together and advocate for and support one another as we truly become a singular voice.”

“People Magazine is the reporting powerhouse that it is due to the hard work, savvy engagement and dedication of its editorial staff,” said Susan DeCarava, President of The NewsGuild of New York. “We’re proud to have represented media workers on the print side of the publication for years. It is way past time that the digital editorial workers of People are also recognized for the work they do. We look forward to continuing to work with Meredith management to preserve labor peace and ensure that editorial workers of the magazine benefit from the protections of a Guild contract.”

Follow the group on Twitter @peoplemagunion.

They released the following mission statement:

Since its founding in 1974, PEOPLE has been the leading magazine of celebrity, lifestyle and human interest journalism in America. It has carved out a unique position in the media landscape, taking readers inside the lives of extraordinary people doing ordinary things and ordinary people doing extraordinary things through unparalleled access to cultural icons and everyday heroes. We, the digital editorial staffers, are proud to work at such a prestigious publication and want to ensure its continued success while valuing the contributions of all employees for years to come.

As a brand, the print and digital staff have worked seamlessly to create a relationship with readers as a trusted news source, with our website delivering breaking news updates and our magazine providing in-depth stories on the same topics. All editorial employees contribute to both platforms — the print-digital divide is nonexistent. But as it stands, only PEOPLE print editorial members are protected by a union contract with the NewsGuild of New York. Digital staffers deserve the same protections and benefits, so to that end, we have decided to join our teammates at PEOPLE, who support our effort, and our peers at other vital outlets like The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and more.

The coronavirus pandemic has added unprecedented turbulence to an already turbulent industry. In light of the financial actions the company announced on April 20, it is more important now than ever that we possess the same rights as our print colleagues. Without union protection, we are placed in a more vulnerable position with no avenues to advocate for ourselves. We are all invested in the positions we hold and the stories that we tell. Despite these trying times, our tireless efforts have continued to generate impressive digital traffic. Under these extraordinary circumstances, job security for digital employees is crucial to ensure both staff morale and brand growth.

We want a seat at the table to work with management to secure a fairer workplace. Salaries vary without explanation between people who hold the same position, and many of us are working beyond the requirements of our job description with no clear system for tying compensation to performance. Constant re-strategizing has placed more work, pressure and expectations upon us, with no additional compensation. With few opportunities for career development, it’s problematic that employees know their best chance to secure a raise or a promotion is to get a job offer elsewhere. 

We are confident that this action is a necessary step to protect our future. Currently, 96% of eligible PEOPLE digital staff have signed union authorization cards and have requested voluntary recognition of their union. We are asking Meredith Corporation to recognize the digital and print staffers as one collective union, and we look forward to joining the amicable collective-bargaining process.