Hundreds of Insider employees will walk off the job on Monday morning to protest the company’s plan to lay off 10 percent of its staff, the company’s union announced on Twitter Sunday night.
The daylong walkout campaign was hastily organized almost immediately after the layoffs were announced. More than 250 people agreed to the walkout, tech reporter and union steward William Antonelli told The Daily Beast, with about 40 people pledging to picket the company’s Financial District headquarters on Monday morning.
“Management has been regularly refusing to recognize the value we bring to this newsroom,” Antonelli said. “Maybe we just have to take our value away and maybe they’ll recognize it then.”
Insider did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but the company’s chief people officer Jessica Liebman sent out an email late Sunday bemoaning the union’s decision to walk out.
“Some of our US union employees are planning to walk out Monday to protest our proposed team reductions,” Liebman wrote. “Though we would have preferred to use this time to meet and bargain with the union, striking is the union’s right and we respect that.”
Staffers first made mention of a walkout during a union Zoom call Thursday afternoon.
“The time is now,” real-estate reporter and guild secretary Alex Nicoll said, according to audio obtained by The Daily Beast. “We have even more reason than we did yesterday, when we had a hell of a lot of reasons to walk out. A walkout is kind of the next step to show them the level of organization we have, the level of solidarity we have, the way that all of us are going to stand up for our co-workers.”
The goal of the walkout, according to a union email sent on Friday, is to prevent the proposed layoffs, obtain bargaining dates, and agree to the union’s first contract.
“They’ve told us that there is no financial exigency, meaning there is not a catastrophic, urgent need for them to do this,” the email read. “They just want to push out our coworkers to protect their profits.”
The company has aimed for a late May deadline for the layoffs, Antonelli said. However, “that’s a proposal.”
“They have a deadline, but that’s not our deadline,” said Antonelli, who was on the list of proposed layoffs.
Antonelli said they were surprised to learn they were on the list of the proposed layoffs, as they had been told they would be the face of an Insider vertical. “I was really enjoying my job and thought I was doing very well,” Antonelli said.
“I’ve spent a lot of these last few days helping people not panic, and also I have faith,” they continued. “I have faith that we’re going to get this to a resolution that helps me and helps our unit members.”
The walkout would be the unit’s largest demonstration against management, following previous “lunch outs” over contract disputes. The layoffs, Antonelli said, represent “another example of the sort of things we’re bargaining to prevent.”
The union did concede the walkout could result in docked pay for a day—“that’s a risk with any kind of work stoppage”—but it said it would develop a hardship fund for employees who could not afford to miss a day’s pay. The company confirmed those plans in an email late Friday afternoon, saying it would not pay employees who participated in any form of a walkout or strike.
“Members of the union may decide to have a strike or a walkout,” Liebman wrote on Friday in an email obtained and reviewed by The Daily Beast. “That is the union’s right and one we support and respect. Of course, any employees (union or otherwise) who are on strike will not be paid during that time. The rest of us will continue to serve our clients, audience, and each other until our union members return.”
Comments like Liebman’s email reflect “a style of communication that a large majority of our unit members are starting to see through,” Antonelli said. “Obviously, people are fed up about it”.
Insider told staff on Thursday it would lay off 10 percent of its workforce, including both union and non-union staffers. Those affected who were not in the union were sent layoff notices on Thursday.
Abiding by union rules preventing direct communication with unit members, the company sent the unit council a proposed list of 60 staffers it intended to lay off. Union rules mandate the company bargain over the layoffs, something Insider noted will make the process harder for those who will potentially be affected.
“This period of limbo will be stressful for people in the union, which is why we want to move as quickly as possible to come to a resolution,” Liebman said in a call on Thursday. “We have a few ideas for how we can make that limbo period a little bit easy for you all, and we’ll share those with the union reps today.”
Some of those ideas, Liebman wrote in her Friday email, include the offer of paid leave for unit members on the list. That proposal is also contingent on union bargaining.
“It also doesn’t require the union or any union employee to agree to the full proposal or release any rights,” Liebman wrote. “And, if an employee is removed from the list, they can simply return to work.”
The walkout follows various forms of public action by newsroom unions. Unions at The New York Times, NBC News, and Reuters held one-day strikes within the last year over contract disputes, with the latter agreeing to a contract about a month after voting for a strike authorization.
Insider’s layoffs also reflect how media companies have responded to a dwindling advertising market even as the economy appears to be improving. Just hours after the layoffs were announced, BuzzFeed announced it would shutter its Pulitzer Prize-winning news operation. CNN, The Washington Post, NPR, and Vox Media have all also announced various forms of layoffs within the last six months.
The walkout is not the only solution the unit has considered, Antonelli said, and it could just be the start of efforts to combat Insider’s proposals.
“After tomorrow’s walkout, I think the landscape is going to change quite a bit,” Antonelli said. “I think they will really understand ‘Hey, we’re willing to walk out now, and hey, if you keep messing with us on this, there could be more walkouts in the future.’”
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