Law360 Editorial Staff Chooses Union Representation

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By Tyrone Richardson

Aug. 24 — Editorial staffers at subscription-based legal news website Law360 voted to accept the NewsGuild of New York as their collective bargaining representative, triggering a possible challenge by the LexisNexis subsidiary, union officials told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 24.

The staffers voted 109-9 for representation by the union, Guild organizing coordinator Nastaran Mohit told Bloomberg BNA. National Labor Relations Board Region 2, which Aug. 10 started a two-week election process of in-person and mail-in ballots, did not immediately post official results. All ballots were counted Aug. 24 at the Region 2 offices in New York City.

The Law360 bargaining unit totals about 130 editorial staff members, including reporters, editors and news assistants, union officials told Bloomberg BNA. The Guild, which is Local 31003 of NewsGuild-CWA, sought to organize the Law360 staffers to address issues such as stagnant wages, story quotas and unilateral changes to employee benefits, officials said.

The campaign also came weeks after Law360 management reached a settlement with New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman to end its practice of requiring all editorial employees to sign noncompetition agreements.

The NewsGuild-CWA and the Writers Guild of America East are in the midst of separate campaigns to organize digital newsrooms across the country. Union leaders told Bloomberg BNA that digital-only publications are largely staffed with young personnel who are seeking higher wages and a voice in the decision-making process.

Company to Challenge Election Results?

Officials for Law360, which is based in New York City and owned by LexisNexis subsidiary Portfolio Media Inc., Aug. 24 declined to sign off on the NLRB vote tally, potentially setting up a challenge to the NLRB election results, Mohit said.

Representatives for Law360 management “verbally raised objections” to the handling of the ballot box used to count ballots for about 15 staffers in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., Mohit said.

“They may want to maintain objection to the integrity of the votes from D.C. and Los Angeles since they were sent in an envelope and not a box,” Mohit said. “It’s a frivolous challenge, and it falls in line with what we have seen from Jackson Lewis and this is what they get paid for.”

The company has seven days to challenge the election results, according to NLRB rules. A challenge was not filed as of the afternoon of Aug. 24, according to the NLRB website.

Law360 spokesman Chris Giganti told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 24 that the company would not comment.

Company Countered Union Drive

The company has retained the law firm Jackson Lewis as counsel and Labor Relations Institute “for union-busting purposes,” Mohit told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 10.

The NLRB election came after management July 22 declined to voluntarily recognize the NewsGuild of New York. Company spokesman Giganti said then that “Law360 believes that every member of the voting group should have a voice in this important decision. That’s why we’ve insisted on this secret-ballot election the NLRB is conducting.”

Mohit told Bloomberg BNA that declining the card-check agreement was followed by the company orchestrating daily “captive audience meetings” with the newsroom staff. That included hour-long meetings with the consultants, LexisNexis executives and senior Law360 managers, all urging them to vote no, the Guild said in a written statement Aug. 24.

The NLRB-conducted election also came amid an editorial leadership shake-up that featured some top managers being fired and escorted from the building. Anne Urda, previously a managing editor, replaced Cat Fredenburgh as editor-in-chief.

The firing of Fredenburgh may have been done to send a message, Mohit said.

“The majority of employees felt that this was a last-ditch effort to convince staff that Lexis-Nexis was willing to make changes if they voted the union down,” she said.

Union Drive Applauded by Advocates

Peter Szekely, president of The NewsGuild of New York, lauded the winning vote.

“After overcoming an intense anti-union campaign, the editorial staff of Law360 joins the thousands of union journalists nationwide that benefit from the protections of Guild-negotiated contracts,” Szekely said in a written statement provided to Bloomberg BNA Aug. 24. “Employees have sent management a clear message and we hope Law360 accepts it. We’re ready to turn the page and have a constructive dialogue with management.”

Jonathan Randles, a newsroom employee who has worked at Law360 since 2011, told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 24 that newsroom staffers have been discussing unionizing for years. Winning the votes to be represented by the Guild “is going to help all the people in the newsroom,” he said.

“As the company and the newsroom continues to mature and establish itself, it’s good to know that people who are here will get benefits and protections of a contract, and that’s very gratifying,” Randles said.

In addition to Law360, other digital newsrooms have organized recently at the Huffington Post, Vice Media, ThinkProgress and Gawker Media.

There have been some first labor contracts as well.

That includes Gawker Media, which marked the WGAE’s first successfully ratified labor contract in digital newsroom campaign. When the contract was ratified, union leadership and Professor Ken Margolies of the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations told Bloomberg BNA that the deal could set a standard for contracts at other digital newsrooms.

The three-year Gawker deal set a minimum $50,000 yearly salary, a grievance process, an at-will employment clause and annual raises of 3 percent, according to the contract.

Univision Communications Inc., which recently purchased Gawker Media in a bankruptcy auction, has agreed to assume the labor contract as part of the deal, the union said.

Bloomberg BNA, a wholly owned subsidiary of Bloomberg LP, has editorial staffers represented by Local 32035 of the NewsGuild-CWA.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tyrone Richardson in Washington at trichardson@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com

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