Fusion’s Union Effort Faces Resistance

Fusion’s Union Effort Faces Resistance

Executives held meetings in four offices discouraging unionization, employees say

Editorial employees at Fusion, which is owned by Univision, are pushing to unionize.
Editorial employees at Fusion, which is owned by Univision, are pushing to unionize. Photo: Associated Press
By
Steven Perlberg
Oct. 21, 2016 7:51 p.m. ET

Earlier this month, a majority of editorial staffers at Fusion signed union cards to join the growing list of digital journalism outlets embracing collective bargaining.

But now some employees at the millennial-geared web publisher are frustrated by the response from Univision Communications Inc., Fusion’s parent company. Employees say executives have applied subtle pressure in “captive audience meetings” at four offices across the country.

Executives have told employees at meetings in New York, Miami, Oakland and Los Angeles over the past two weeks that unionization would alter benefits, impact hiring and firing, hinder communication between writers and editors and cap salaries, employees said.

“If a place tells you ‘don’t organize,’ there’s probably a reason you should,” said Caitlin Cruz, associate features editor at Fusion, whose bargaining unit would encompass about 80 digital editorial employees.

Fusion Chief Content Officer Daniel Eilemberg and Chief Operating Officer Boris Gartner have led the meetings, where they made “vague, doomsday characterizations” about unionization, said Michael Rosen, a reporter who attended the Oakland meeting.

Mr. Rosen said that the executives seem to be inclined to push employees to formally vote, as opposed to voluntarily accepting the union now. Messrs. Gartner and Eilemberg told employees they would ultimately respect their wishes, Mr. Rosen said.

“We are considering what ultimately will be best for the long term success of Fusion and its employees, and that, of course, involves talking to them. We respect and will continue to support our team unconditionally,” a Fusion spokeswoman said in a statement.

When Fusion staffers made their intentions public on Oct. 5, Messrs. Eilemberg and Gartner sent out an email to employees saying the company would be sharing information with employees “so that they can make an educated, personal decision from the privacy of a voting booth” and “at the end of that process, we think you will agree that guild representation would not be beneficial for you or Fusion.”

The resistance from management is at odds with the outlet’s largely progressive political stance in its editorial work, some employees said. Founded as a joint venture between Walt Disney Co. DIS 1.09 % ’s ABC and Univision, the digital and cable outlet was geared toward Hispanic millennials before shifting focus to young people more generally. Univision bought out Disney’s stake earlier this year.

Fusion has organized with the Writers Guild of America, East, which has represented other digital media companies such as Huffington Post, Vice Media and Salon. Staffers at digital outlets like the Guardian have joined the NewsGuild-CWA, and traditional outlets like the New York Times NYT 0.00 % and The Wall Street Journal have had unionized newsrooms for years.

Complicating matters is Univision’s recent $135 million acquisition of Gawker Media, which has folded into the Fusion Media Group unit under the new name Gizmodo Media Group. Univision recognized Gawker’s incoming union, which some Fusion employees believed would help pave the way for their charge.

A group of employees at Gizmodo Media Group, which includes sites like Gizmodo, Jezebel and Deadspin, this week sent an email to Isaac Lee, chief news, digital and entertainment officer at Univision. The note, obtained by The Wall Street Journal, urged the company to “deal fairly and honestly with all editorial employees – which should mean voluntarily recognizing your staff’s wishes for a union and moving forward to bargain with them in good faith.”

Fusion employees say the issues they want to discuss at the bargaining table include salary transparency and better parental leave policies.

To be sure, executives at other digital news outlets that eventually unionized have dragged their feet, but Justin Molito, director of organizing at WGA-E, said that Fusion has seemed particularly resistant. “It has been a couple of weeks, and they can reverse course,” he said.

Ms. Cruz said that staffers are discussing their options for applying more pressure, such as a walk out. “We’re hoping that it doesn’t have to escalate to something drastic,” she said.

Write to Steven Perlberg at steven.perlberg@wsj.com


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