Sports Illustrated staffers announce intention to unionize

Posted January 6, 2020 1:43 p.m. EST

— Sports Illustrated staffers announced their intention to unionize on Monday, seeking better workplace protections amid turmoil at the legacy brand.

The union represents about 80 staffers in print, digital and video. Sports Illustrated's magazine staffers were already a part of the NewsGuild of New York, but are now included in this new union that is also with the NewsGuild.

In October, Seattle-based startup Maven took ownership of Sports Illustrated from magazine conglomerate Meredith Corporation and immediately laid off about 40 staffers. Maven's strategy for the brand included hiring about 200 contractors to increase Sports Illustrated's local sports coverage, which the union argues negatively impacts their "credibility."

"Decisions made by new management over the last few months have put SI's reputation and long-term health at risk," the union said in a statement on Monday. "Two dozen employees who lost their jobs were women or people of color, leaving us less representative of the world we cover. Moreover, Maven's directive to launch a network of team reporters on SI's platforms without sufficient vetting or editorial oversight has already resulted in errors that severely undermine our credibility."

Maven did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Shortly after Maven's takeover in October, staffers took to Twitter to ask its original owners to unravel the deal. Meredith acquired Sports Illustrated from Time Inc. and then sold it to Authentic Brands Group in 2018 for $110 million. Meredith continued to publish the magazine and website until Maven's acquired the rights.

Maven, which also owns financial news site TheStreet, was founded in 2017 by James Heckman. He appointed Ross Levinsohn, who he worked with at Fox and Yahoo, to oversee Sports Illustrated. Levinsohn was put on unpaid leave in 2018 while publisher and CEO of the Los Angeles Times over "questionable behavior" in his past, which he denied.

The unionization effort isn't solely in response to Maven's ownership, however. Many media companies have unionized in recent years, including Vox Media, Hearst and NBC News.

"The Guild has been a stabilizing force at SI since Henry Luce's heyday," Jack Dickey, associate editor at Sports Illustrated, said in a statement, referencing the magazine's original founder. "The basic protections codified in our longstanding union contract for print employees have facilitated our finest journalism and our steadiness by making SI a great place to work. As we turn the page to a new era, it is essential that all journalists here receive those same protections."

Susan DeCarava, president of the NewsGuild of New York, said the labor union has "proudly presented" the print staffers at Sports Illustrated for decades.

"Employees with a contractually-protected voice in their workplace are invested in the future of their publication. We stand together in urging management to demonstrate trust in their staff and respect for this iconic publication by swiftly recognizing the union," DeCarava said in a statement.

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