It all started in April with the editorial staffers at Gawker when they announced their plans to unionize, and actually did it in June. They were soon followed by Guardian US, Salon and Vice, as well as Upworthy and BuzzFeed. Slowly other content creators and writers are also uniting to take advantage of the demand boom in the Digital Media field to improve their working conditions! Since many of them work as freelancers and independent contractors, this development is bound to set a great example and forge a new direction to the unionization efforts of contingent workforces. It could also assuage concerns about the exponential growth in their numbers, without adequate protection from possible ill treatment. It may encourage workers from more industries to come together to collectively bargain with their employers, for now as well in the future – the sharing economy of the new start-ups being foremost among them.
It does seem that Digital Media as an industry offers the right platform for bringing about significant change; since most of these activists have the power to wield the pen to not just share information, but also to gain publicity as well as followers. They can garner favorable public opinion about the far-reaching repercussions of lay-offs, castigate the standard of wages against the living costs of their location and criticize hiring decisions which discriminate against some races or deny opportunities to the deserving. By uniting for their cause, they can also ensure that they get to experience fair labor practices in the various workplaces to which they are attached. The unionization of media is bound to focus upon and galvanize opinion behind rights which need to be protected in the workplaces today.
Every workplace has its own culture and processes, and it is not possible to envisage all the issues that unionization would have to deal with. If the workers are a part of its contingent workforce, they may find that resolving their issues could be further complicated, as they may not be the responsibility of single employer. Most contingent workers are considered to be employed by staffing agencies (though their safety is definitely the responsibility of the staffing client), while independent contractors would be considered self-employed and cannot enjoy collective labor rights under American law or negotiate with management. However, the fact that many of the editors and content writers in the media industry are freelancers should not be forgotten, when considering the effects of unionization in the media industry.
The general issues that concern a worker can include the benefits they are entitled to, their wages, expenses and the payment due for the hours they put in including overtime, their ability to influence the administrative processes, general working conditions, equal pay for similar roles, gender gap in wages, and discrimination in spite of the protections afforded to all workers by the Civil Rights Act under Title VII. Specific issues could involve delayed/late payments of wages, non-reimbursement of expenses incurred, or unpaid bills against an absent or bankrupt employer – these could all form the bane of a freelance writer’s (or freelancer’s) life. The ability to bargain over these and other exploitative conditions will help improve workplaces in general and the lives of freelance workers in particular. After all, how else will they be able to pay their rents and taxes, feed their families, and buy food and healthcare for themselves and their families?
All those who worry about the weakened position of unions in America’s workplaces, the waning numbers of traditional work arrangements and the increased independent contractors classifications, are watching these developments with great interest. Though it is too early to say anything conclusively, this effort at winning collective bargaining abilities is definitely a move in the right direction and is bound to garner better public opinion as well as enthusiasm among others in similar situations.
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