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Gawker Media's Union Officially Has a Contract. Now What?

Will other digital media shops follow Gawker's lead?

Victor Jeffreys

After months of negotiations with management, Gawker Media employees have successfully agreed on a union contract, the first of its kind at a digital media company. It’s a significant step for Gawker that could also set a standard for other outlets.

The Writers Guild of America, East, the union that represents Gawker employees, is also involved in writer contract negotiations at Vice and the Huffington Post. Here are some of the major details from the Gawker Media union agreement:

  • The minimum salary for any full-time Gawker employee is $50,000. For senior writers and editors, it’s $70,000. Deputy editors and some smaller site leads will have a $90,000 floor.
  • Freelancers at Gawker will either be hired or let go after one full year, and part-time freelancers will have their pay increased to the same daily pay levels as full-time employees.
  • Gawker employees did not seek to institute requirements that workers be dismissed “for cause” instead of “at will,” so long as employees who are let go receive “a good severance.”

Gawker Media employees have long maintained that part of the reason for collective bargaining was to help set employment standards for the entire digital media industry. Hamilton Nolan, the writer who helped spearhead this process, said as much when he announced the unionization drive last April. Below is a tweet representing the same sentiment:

Over the last few months, employees in digital newsrooms that are organizing — including HuffPo and Vice — have told Re/code that the Gawker Media union drive was largely what spurred them to action. But the organizing efforts in those newsrooms don’t necessarily mean that their management will take cues from Gawker in terms of standardized pay rates and benefits.

In an email to Re/code, Nolan explained more fully why he thinks other digital media shops will follow Gawker’s lead.

“The more big companies in this industry get union contracts, the more pressure there will be for low-paying outliers to raise their wages to the industry standard in order to attract competent employees,” Nolan said. “Industries that are widely unionized tend to have better pay (because workers have leverage), and that’s where I hope our industry is headed soon. Also, the more companies get union contracts, the greater salary transparency we’ll have throughout the whole industry, which helps workers as well.”

As for how Gawker’s recent cash infusion from investment firm Columbus Nova (the company’s first outside investor) affected the unionization process, Nolan said that he “did not see any impact on the negotiations from the investment, except perhaps that the company was better capitalized and thus could negotiate more comfortably (but I’m guessing).”

The union contract announcement comes at a perilous moment for Gawker. The company’s sex tape court case against Hulk Hogan gets under way in Florida this week. In a recent podcast interview with Re/code’s Peter Kafka, Gawker CEO Nick Denton and Columbus Nova’s Jason Epstein (a new member of Gawker’s board) outlined why they’re bullish on the trial, and why it’s just a “time and money question.”

The Guardian first reported the news Monday morning, and said that Gawker employees are set to vote on the contract “over the next week.”

You can listen to Peter Kafka’s full interview with Denton and Epstein below:

Update: Here’s a statement attributed to Nick Denton, Gawker President and legal chief Heather Dietrick and editorial boss John Cook:

We are extremely pleased that the writers, editors, and video producers of Gawker Media Group have signaled their approval of a historic union contract with GMG management, the first of its kind in the digital news business.

This agreement guarantees that the driving force of our company—the writers and others who collaborate to make our seven sites influential, impassioned, and read by 100 million people around the world each month—will continue to freely express themselves while enjoying the security, fair wages, and quality benefits they have earned.

It will likewise ensure that Gawker Media’s management retains the flexibility to run the business effectively in a fast-paced and fluid environment. The agreement is the result of occasionally intense but always collegial negotiation, and preserves the autonomy, agility, honesty, and editorial freedom that has made Gawker Media the largest independent voice in digital media.

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