How We Turned Bargaining Around at Law360
[Yesterday NewsGuild members at Mashable, PC Mag, Ask Men, and Geek walked off the job for 24 hours, part of their ongoing fight for a first contract two years after the publications' parent company, ZiffDavis, agreed to recognize their union. While the media industry has seen a wave of new unions formed recently, most of these units remain locked in protracted fights for a first contract—a problem faced by new unions in many sectors. Below is the story of how workers at Law360 turned their bargaining around after two years of management stalling and won a first contract. We hope it can inspire others and provide some ideas for ramping up pressure on the bosses.—Eds.]
At the legal news site Law360, our union learned that management would do everything it could to drag out negotiations in the hope of demoralizing us into accepting a bad deal. But we also learned that a well-timed, escalating contract campaign and a credible strike threat could force management to give in.
Our unit of reporters, editors, and news assistants in 2016 voted overwhelmingly—109 to 9—to join the NewsGuild of New York. We were fed up with low pay, an illegal overtime pay system, and a crushing work quota.
But we did not expect the protracted, contentious fight for a first contract that lay ahead—a struggle that many other newly unionized shops in the media industry are facing today.
MANAGEMENT SAYS ‘NO’
Our bargaining committee initially wanted to maintain a collegial, professional relationship with management and mutually agree to contract provisions. But the first lesson we learned was that in bargaining, the union goes to the table with proposals and management says no.
Where we wanted to negotiate, they would draw a hard line. It took a long time for them to realize they couldn’t just tell employees what to do anymore.
It was also clear that while money was important, management cared most about maintaining control. Our biggest fight was over our demand to limit managers’ and freelancers’ ability to do bargaining-unit work.
The company did everything it could to delay, trying to wear us down. Bargaining sessions seemed to accomplish less and less. Meanwhile our union lost quite a bit of the momentum we’d had during the organizing drive. By 2018, after a year and a half of this, we knew something needed to change.
It was time to move beyond small unifying actions, like having everyone wear union shirts, to things that would make management uncomfortable. We needed to jump-start our unit council (our elected representative body) and get our mobilization committee (made up of activists dedicated to organizing actions) back into gear—and quickly. We needed an action plan that would systematically turn up the heat on management.
So we got organized all over again.
BUILDING TO A STRIKE
The bargaining team sat down and came up with goals and a timeline. We decided we wanted to ratify our contract by the end of the year—and that it would take a credible strike threat to make that happen.
Working backwards from that date, we mapped out each step we would take in the coming months to build to a strike. We lined up our scheduled bargaining dates with actions, each more powerful than the last, to ratchet up the pressure on management and build our co-workers’ confidence in our collective power.
We took our plan to our unit council and mobilization committee; they agreed. Together we kicked our contract campaign in high gear.
We made a list: everyone on the unit council, bargaining committee, and mobilization committee was assigned a specific group of co-workers they were responsible for communicating with regularly. Between us, we spoke individually with every person in the shop. We told them about management’s stalling tactics and how our employer wanted to assign our work to freelancers.
FROM 15-MINUTE MEETINGS TO A WALKOUT
We started with smaller actions, like putting up posters at our desks; over time our actions grew more and more disruptive. (See the box for a timeline.)
At first, we would all stop work and have 15-minute membership meetings at the front of the office so the bargaining team could give up an update to everyone. Then those meetings increased to 30 minutes and began happening outside. Then they lasted an hour and snowballed into a full-fledged walkout.
We wrote a letter to the CEO of LexisNexis, the parent company of Law360, and a delegation of workers went to hand-deliver it. When the CEO came to speak at a company-wide town hall at Law360, we collectively confronted him about the company’s anti-union actions. We even got Scabby the Rat for a day and organized an informational picket.
We encouraged every member of the unit that could to come to a bargaining session. So many showed up that we had to take seats behind the company’s side of the table, literally surrounding them on all sides. This big show of solidarity had management shaking in their boots, and they immediately caved on some issues they had been stalling on for months.
We covered the office with signs regularly. One of our most effective campaigns was to have people write what they wanted most on giant Post-It notes and hang those up on a blank newsroom wall. We’d take them down only once we had an agreement on the issue.
Management admitted this was embarrassing, and that they’d had to stop inviting clients to the newsroom—and they gave in to demands just so we’d take them down.
All along, we never stopped having one-on-one conversations with all of our co-workers. Communicating regularly ensured that they could trust the bargaining committee when we called for something as big as a strike vote.
STRIKE AUTHORIZATION VOTE
Our final topic in bargaining was wages. We talked with every member in the shop multiple times about how we wanted to tie the delivery of our proposal to a strike authorization vote. We collected their questions and issues and came back to them with answers. We knew where all our co-workers stood walking into the vote.
The day before we went back to the table with our proposal, we took the vote. It was a blowout: 141 in favor of authorizing a strike, to 11 against.
Since we walked in armed with that mandate, wages ended up being the topic we spent the least time negotiating. We won an immediate 22 percent increase in total salaries, a minimum salary of $50,000 per year, successorship language that protects our contract if the company is ever sold, and provisions that bar the company from reinstating non-compete clauses and onerous daily story quotas.
We ratified the contract—unanimously, 168 to 0—by the end of the year, right on schedule.
Juan Carlos Rodriguez and Dani Kass are reporters at Law360 and serve as the unit chair and first vice chair of the Law360 unit council, respectively. They were also bargaining committee members.