NBC News Digital staff announces plan to unionize
Posted October 30, 2019 4:28 p.m. EDT
CNN — The digital news employees at NBC News announced on Wednesday their intention to unionize, pushing for fair wages, newsroom diversity and the ability to address the mishandling of sexual harassment allegations with management without fear of retribution.
The union plans were announced amid internal turmoil sparked by Ronan Farrow's book, "Catch and Kill," which alleges NBC leadership inappropriately quashed his reporting on Harvey Weinstein's alleged sexual misconduct and allowed a culture where powerful employees engaged in sexual harassment and other wrongdoing.
Earlier this month, NBC News Executive Producer Andy Lack accused Farrow of painting "a fundamentally untrue picture" and pointed out that the network fired former "Today" show host Matt Lauer within 24 hours of a formal complaint about Lauer's conduct. (Lauer has denied the claims against him)
The controversy has triggered concerns among staff.
"Recent weeks have highlighted serious questions as to how NBC News has handled incidents of sexual misconduct in the workplace as well as the opaque processes and procedures for reporting on and exposing powerful predators," the union organizers said in a statement.
Tate James, a video editor at NBC News, told CNN Business the union effort had been in the works for about a year and a half.
"The recent news made it clear that we needed to unionize now, but we already had a huge majority by the time 'Catch and Kill' came out," he said in a text message.
The union also said, NBC News "should do more to close gender and race wage gaps, address chronic understaffing, meaningfully prioritize diversity, promote transparency, and offer job protections."
On Tuesday, NBC News laid off about a dozen staffers while sunsetting its digital video studio "NBC Left Field."
The New York Times, which first reported the union plans, wrote that NBC News digital employees uncovered pay disparities between white men and women and minorities after creating an anonymous spreadsheet of salaries.
The union includes about 150 editorial employees at NBCNews.com, Today.com, Stay Tuned, MSNBC.com and online streaming network NBC News Now.
In a memo to NBC staffers, obtained by CNN Business, Chris Berend, executive vice president of digital at NBC News, wrote, "I want you to know we are deeply committed to a fair and healthy workplace for all our employees. We welcome this dialogue from within our digital organization, and any constructive conversation aimed at building the future of NBC News Digital and ensuring that we're the best we can be. We will address this request quickly, and will keep you updated every step of the way."
NBC News did not comment beyond Berend's letter.
An increasing number of digital newsrooms have been unionizing in recent years in an effort to increase wages and improve workplace conditions. NBC News Digital unionized through the News Guild, which also represents employees at BuzzFeed News, Ziff Davis and Quartz, among other publications.
"Management has a lot to prove to its staff," NewsGuild president Grant Glickson said in a statement. "We urge NBC to recognize the union in order to start building back the trust of the staff and fostering a productive and collaborative bargaining relationship."
NBC News Digital's union said about 75% of colleagues eligible for the union have signed on as they ask for voluntary recognition from management.