The news staffs of Politico and E&E News went public Friday with the news that that they have formed a union. Around 80 percent of the newsrooms’ combined staffs are on board, says Natalie Fertig, a reporter at Politico who covers federal cannabis policy. The union, named PenGuild, is organized with the Washington-Baltimore News Guild, which also represents Washingtonian‘s editorial staff. Its bargaining unit will comprise around 250 people and aims to represent employees based in the US. Politico is based in Virginia, a right-to-work state, so employees will likely have the choice of whether or not to join if the union drive is successful.
No single issue animated plans to organize, Fertig says: “The point is, we have this many people coming together to say we want a seat at the bargaining table.” Staffers began meeting about unionization last fall, and the conversations mostly took place virtually. “Organizing during a pandemic is not the easiest thing to do,” she says. Politico’s management began rolling out improvements to staff benefits last summer just as outside news outlets caught on to the fact that, as happened at many media companies recently, employees were considering organizing: It has instituted a strong work-from-home policy and also introduced a generous parental leave policy last summer.
But, says Ariel Wittenberg, a reporter who covers public health for E&E News, “Without a union contract, those benefits are not protected.” E&E has been sold twice in the last 12 months, Wittenberg notes: First to Politico last December and then, with Politico, to German publishing giant Axel Springer. The editorial staff of Insider, which Axel Springer also owns, organized earlier this year and won a certification election 241 – 14.
Politico Editor-in-Chief Matt Kaminski sent staffers a memo Friday that said management had contacted the News Guild “to discuss an agreement to voluntarily recognize the union.” Kaminski said the brass was “heartened by those tweets and statements which make clear your pride in your work, our mission as a publication, and our collective desire to keep making progress.” Indeed, both Fertig and Wittenberg say they really like their jobs. “I have worked at a number of news organizations and I have seen how much of an impact not having a union can have on your quality of life, when management may not have the best interests of the newsroom at heart,” Fertig says. “I’ve never felt that way at Politico, and I feel really protective of that. I want a union to protect what we have, because it’s been such a relief to work somewhere I feel secure and safe in my job and encouraged in my reporting.”
PenGuild’s logo shows pens in a pocket—not a pocket protector, Washingtonian is informed, and it already has a TikTok:
Updated to reflect that Politico’s management has said it is seeking an agreement to recognize the union.