News & Politics

Politico Has a “Culture of Fear,” Could Have Union Election Soon, Reporter Says

Salon Media’s editorial staff has voted to unionize, the Writers Guild of America, East, announced Thursday.

Thursday turned out to be an excellent day to check in with Politico labor reporter Mike Elk, who is working to unionize his own newsroom.

Elk sent an email to editorial staff Thursday urging them to follow Salon and Gawker Media and become a union shop. “Sure the snack bar is great”–you can see the snack area in Politico’s new offices in this video, and it does look swell– “but a union contract would be even sweeter!” he wrote to colleagues. Among the benefits he touts in the email: More formalized pay-raises and a “clear scheduling system that gives people certainty in balancing the needs of our personal lives with the needs of our professional lives.”

Reached by email, Elk says about a third of the staff is interested in pursuing a union. “The problem is that a real culture of fear exists,” he writes. (Are there any Washington-area newsrooms where staffers don’t constantly wonder if they measure up to their high-power, swaggering colleagues?) He continues:

“People look at how many bylines I have gotten in the six months since i announced the union drive and say ‘do I want that to happen to me’. If Jim VandeHei can write a 1,400 word memo explaining ‘POLITICO culture’ – why can’t he write he wrote a ten word email saying that “I won’t fire, demote, or retaliate against anyone seeking to unionize’. It’s a question that as labor reporter at his publication that I feel Jim should answer.”

Elk has published only a few stories at Politico since he started last year, Betsy Rothstein reported in February. VandeHei, Politico’s CEO, wrote a memo about Politico’s culture earlier this month. He called that culture, whose attributes he listed in on-brand capital letters, “the core of our company.”

If enough journalists sign a petition, Politico could hold an election within three weeks, Elk says. I’ve asked Politico for comment and will update this when I hear back. Here’s Elk’s email.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Following the lead of our brothers and sisters at Gawker, our brothers and sisters at Salon have unanimously chosen to unionize with Writers Guild of America East. Since the successful drive at Gawker, unions that represent media workers have initiated campaigns at half dozen outlets and Now, its our time to help make history. In doing so not only would we help ourselves, but help make POLITICO the type of publication where workers want to stay for their entire careers because the working conditions are so good. These our chances to take POLITICO to the next level!

Sure the snack bar is great, but a union contract would be even sweeter! At my last publication, I was in a union and up until we lost a major grant, it was the absolute best work environment in which I was ever employed. I personally feel that you never feel more dedicated to your workplace than when you have a union contract and refuse

So why would a union here at POLITICO be good for us?

1.) A Voice on the Job

As POLITICO undergoes this great transition and expands, its more important than ever that we employees have a voice on the job. I hear people talking about how things all the time, but as media workers at POLITICO we have no formal way to raise objections that the company is forced to listen. A union would give us a body to address common problems and seek a way to address them.

2.) Pay Raises

Currently, there is no formal system in place at POLITICO to get a raise like there would be with a union contract. I have heard many people express anxiety and frustrations about being denied raises and not knowing how to get one. With a union contract, there is a clear spelled out processes for getting raises if you meet certain criteria.

3.) Scheduling

Reporters often are forced to work long hours when a big news story break, but how do you get overtime pay or ask for time off without a union contract. Currently, we have no system in place for this at POLITICO. With a union contract, we could have a clear scheduling system that gives people certainty in balancing the needs of our personal lives with the needs of our professional lives.

Media workers across the digital media industry are making historic gains in giving media workers a voice on the job and now its our turn to join in the fun! Its relatively easy to do, all we need to do is circulate an NLRB petition calling for a union election, get a third of the workforce to sign it, and we can have an election within three weeks.

Feel free to contact me at my personal email at or (412) 613 8423.

Lets join with our brothers and sister at Gawker, Salon, and lets unionize POLITICO!!!!



Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute,, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.