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Condé Nast workers win recognition of company-wide union

Condé Nast employees won union recognition Friday from their company, making workers at iconic, glossy titles such as Vogue and GQ the latest to join a wave of unionization across the media industry.

Staffers went public with their labor organizing effort in March, arguing that they needed to form a union to secure better pay amid increasing workloads. Hundreds of them signed a letter to Condé Nast managers requesting voluntary recognition. The two sides have since been negotiating the scope of who would be covered by the union, which is affiliated with the NewsGuild of New York.

The Condé Nast union covers more than 500 U.S.-based employees: a majority of the editorial, production and video workers at 11 publications, including Vanity Fair, Bon Appétit, Allure Architectural Digest and Condé Nast Entertainment, the company’s in-house production studio.

According to the NewsGuild, nearly 80 percent of eligible employees submitted union cards Friday as part of a “card check.” The informal process, agreed to by Condé Nast, allows employees to form a union without having to petition the federal National Labor Relations Board to hold an election, which can be a more drawn-out process.

The company and these workers will now begin bargaining over employment conditions, which could include everything from wages to benefits. Four other publications previously unionized at Condé.

“After productive conversations with the NewsGuild over the past few months, we have agreed to voluntarily recognize four new editorial and business units,” a Condé Nast spokesman said in a statement Friday. “We’re looking forward to working together on our collective bargaining agreements following successful contracts with The New Yorker, Ars Technica and Pitchfork unions and the pending contract with WIRED.”

The union also covers about 100 subcontractors — called “permalancers” by some — who have become more common in digital media, often working without the benefits or job stability granted to regular employees. Their inclusion in the Condé Nast union was a major demand of labor organizers.

“I’ve seen multiple times where you’ll have a co-worker you’ve worked with for a long time — maybe over a year — and then you’ll find out you’re staff and they’re not, and it makes no sense because they have the same roles and responsibilities,” said Ben Dewey, a Condé Nast Entertainment cameraman. “It’s surprising they don’t have the same protections you do.”

“A lot of our problems exist across our industry and we hope that other companies and workplaces take notice,” Jess Lane, a subcontractor for Condé Nast Entertainment, said in a statement.

Broad efforts to unionize in the media industry come during a tumultuous period of layoffs, pay cuts and corporate consolidation. More than 200 union drives have launched at media publications over the past decade, according to a Poynter Institute report. Since the pandemic began, journalists and other workers at the Atlantic and Politico have formed unions that were voluntarily recognized by their management.

The four titles at Condé Nast, including the New Yorker, that had already successfully unionized under the NewsGuild of New York remain separate organizations.

Not all the labor organizing has been so easily received by media companies. Tech workers at the New York Times had to hold a federally conducted election to unionize earlier this year after the Times refused to voluntarily recognize their union. The Hearst Magazine union had to do the same in 2020. Eligible employees at both companies overwhelmingly voted in favor of unionizing.

At Condé Nast, the union drive was preceded by a period of upheaval. In 2020, Bon Appétit’s top editor resigned after allegations of discrimination and a photo of him wearing “brownface” surfaced, and several of its video stars of color departed.

Fact-checkers, copy editors and web producers at the New Yorker waged a very public, at times heated, contract negotiation campaign over more than two years that included strike threats, celebrity backers and protesting. The company and the New Yorker Union finally settled on a contract last year that would raise the salary minimum from $42,000 to $60,000 by 2023. At the time, Condé Nast said it had already been working to establish such standards companywide.

The New Yorker Union’s rallying cry — “prestige doesn’t pay the bills” — subsequently inspired the broader labor organizing effort at Condé Nast, as employees said they had to deal with increasingly heavy workloads and stagnant wages while living in one of the most expensive cities in the country.

On Friday, union organizers celebrated their victory. “Condé Nast’s storied publications would be nowhere without the hard-working employees that put in the work day-in and day-out,” NewsGuild of New York President Susan DeCarava said in a statement. “We are so proud to fight side-by-side with our newest members to ensure they secure the strongest possible contract.”

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