Staff Washingtonian recently created the Washingtonian Guild, a union intended for the magazine to provide greater protection for workers and give them a greater voice in the company. So far, Washingtonian Media CEO Cathy Merrill, even after stepping back from her editorial written in The Washington Post, which threatened to demote workers to stay at bay as the pandemic abates – will not voluntarily recognize the Washingtonian Guild as a union.

Speaking with WashingtonianEditor-in-chief Marisa Kashino and food editor Jessica Sidman both unsurprisingly expressed their gratitude for their work at the magazine. For writers and journalists, creating content for major publications is a dream come true. Sidman described his work to Washingtonian magazine as his “dream job in many ways”.

Writers and journalists are highly skilled workers, and good ones are scarce. Even if you are a good writer or journalist, entering the editorial world is notoriously difficult. To successfully enter the publishing world, you sometimes have to go through a period of doing unpaid work, with no guarantees and a low probability that such unpaid work will be profitable in the long run. Those who successfully materialize their aspirations by working as writers and journalists deserve to voice their work-related concerns to genuinely attentive ears. Writers and journalists are not easily replaced, and without them newspapers and magazines would not exist.

Kashino and Sidman both say organizing is much more than Cathy Merrill’s editorial in The Washington Post. They say the magazine’s staff have discussed organizing for years as a way to address concerns about wages, diversity and the lack of transparency in company decision-making.

Consider that when the pandemic and lockdowns started in March 2020, Washingtonian magazine decided to cut vacation days for its employees, with no clear sign of how this would help the business. According to Kashino and Sidman, one of the main reasons for organizing is to give staff a place at the table when such decisions are made, as an alternative to lack of transparency on the part of management.

The concerns of the Washingtonian Guild go beyond having a seat at the critical, company-wide decision table. Kashino and Sidman both said there were issues with worker retention due to low wages. Even in a city as expensive as Washington, DC, they said some staff had salaries in the range of $ 30,000 and many workers had not had a raise for years.

The Washingtonian Guild’s requests are quite modest and are common in the editorial world. On the one hand, there are real issues. It is not radical to assume that highly skilled workers like those in Washingtonian magazine should receive equal and sustainable pay, better family leave benefits and a real say in the decisions made by a company. At the magazine, mothers receive three weeks of fully paid parental leave plus short-term disability at 60% of their salary while fathers receive one week, according to Kashino and Sidman. Washingtonian can and should do better than upholding the “you should just be thankful for being here” ethic.

A striking example of successful organizing in the editorial world comes from Slate magazine. SlateThe union contract with the Writer’s Guild of America gave Slate staff a minimum starting salary of $ 51,000, paid time off, codified policies to improve diversity and reduce harassment, pay time, union security and a sits at the table when company-wide decisions are made. As soon as these advantages are granted, Slatethe union declared that “One of the main reasons we undertook this process was our deep love for Slate. We felt so fortunate to work with management to implement our common goals. Our contract reflects our core values ​​as a company and as a workplace. “

If unionization can be done at Slate, it can happen to Washingtonian too much. Organizing does not mean that workers gain the upper hand over employers. Neither is it a question of the proletariat overtaking the bourgeoisie. On the contrary, Marisa Kashino and Jessica Sidman have insisted persistently that organizing is about improving the magazine itself, making it a more humane and fairer place to work.

Fortunately, the Washingtonian Guild hopes that they will soon be recognized as a union, although not by Cathy Merrill. After Merrill decided to voluntarily recognize the Washingtonian Guild as a union, the Guild turned to the National Labor Relations Board. According to federal law, if the CEO of a company does not recognize the union of his workers, the National Labor Relations Board can hold an election to determine whether the union in question is recognizable as a union. And according to Sidman and Kashino, the Washingtonian the editorial staff overwhelmingly supports the Washingtonian Guild.

A man works on a laptop in Bryant Park on December 13, 2020, in New York City.
Alexi Rosenfeld / Getty Images

Although the situation of the Washingtonian Guild is no longer desperate, the rights it fights for the workers of Washingtonian are largely absent from the editorial world. “The future of journalism is uncertain,” Kashino said. “Giving workers a seat at the table to help them solve some of the complex issues facing the industry is for the best. “

Currently, freelancers – who constitute a substantial and growing part of the publishing world – do not have a true union. The Freelance Union provides online resources to help freelancers learn about how to protect their work, but does not provide any concrete protection. Freelancers frequently report not getting paid for work completed, with clients dragging their feet for months or even years to pay for completed work and having ideas stolen from clients. Some freelancers have had to wait 17 years in legal proceedings to be paid by companies like The New York Times. Right now, freelancers have to fend for themselves.

Most freelancers do not receive grants from their clients to work, and it is very rare that they get health insurance or any other benefit. When clients fail to pay or drag their feet with payment, it not only puts freelancers’ livelihoods at risk, but also their health and well-being.

As a growing number of magazines and other publications form unions, newsrooms that do not union risk being left behind by this radical cultural shift in the industry.

“We are extremely proud of the work we do at Atlantic, and we want to see it thrive over the next 163 years. This is why we organize our editorial staff in such a way that all those who Atlantic what it is are valued and supported, ”wrote the newly formed union by Atlantic Staff.

With other newsrooms trying to unionize, Atlanticthe message and SlateSuccess as a trade unionist will set a new precedent in the publishing world. Whether CEOs like it or not, as more newsrooms begin to advocate for unionization – they are – the future of the publishing world will be unionized. The future, as long as the current wave of media calls to unionize continues, will be fairer and newsroom staff will finally get the rights they have always deserved: equal consideration and humane treatment.

Daniel Lehewych is a graduate student of philosophy at CUNY Graduate Center, specializing in moral psychology, ethics and philosophy of mind. He is a freelance writer, powerlifter, and health science enthusiast.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.