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Is Gawker’s vote to unionize a turning point for Internet culture?

For the first time ever, workers at a major online media outlet, Gawker Media, voted earlier this week in a landslide to unionize. Gabriel Arana, senior media editor at The Huffington Post, joins Alison Stewart to discuss.

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  • ALISON STEWART, PBS NEWSHOUR ANCHOR:

    For the first time ever, workers at a major online media outlet, Gawker Media, have voted to unionize.

    In fact, the vote was almost a landslide among the 100-plus employees who contribute to the popular Web sites Gawker, Deadspin and Jezebel.

    Joining me now with some insight is The Huffington Post's senior media editor, Gabriel Arana.

    Gabriel, by all accounts, workers were really happy at Gawker Media generally. So, why Gawker? Why now?

  • GABRIEL ARANA, HUFFINGTON POST:

    So, when you talk to workers, the purported reason for organizing wasn't because they were upset with management. They weren't unhappy.

    It was because they wanted more transparency in the way things like salaries are decided, things like bonuses are decided.

    Right now, those things are subject to individual negotiations, and nobody sort of knows what the rules are for everybody.

    And so, the goal was to bring more transparency to that process. And then, also, as the industry is maturing, people want security.

    People want protection into the future. And Gawker might be a great place to work now, but nobody knows what future holds, what sort of economic challenges, structural changes the company will go through.

    So, it's really, for the future, for transparency, and then for stability.

  • ALISON STEWART:

    I'm wondering about how the idea of unions will mesh with the sort of free-wheeling spirit of the Internet.

  • GABRIEL ARANA:

    I think that unions are going to have to do more of the learning, because tech workers, high-skill workers, millennials — of which I am one — we didn't grow up in a union environment and — I mean, which is one of the things that makes the effort really exciting for the labor movement.

    There have been many efforts to organize the tech sector, to organize software engineers that have been largely unsuccessful, but here you have a really young workforce voting to unionize and in a nascent and thriving industry and especially as the unionization rates have declined over the last few decades. This is a sign of life.

  • ALISON STEWART:

    Is this going to be one of those moments they look to back in history and were like, that was a turning point in the Internet culture?

  • GABRIEL ARANA:

    I think so. I think this is the beginning of a trend, and as the industry matures, as it grows, you're going to see many more organizing efforts at similar digital media companies.

  • ALISON STEWART:

    Placing like Huffington Post or Vox Media. This is going to become the new normal, perhaps?

  • GABRIEL ARANA:

    I'd say there are a few things that were unusual about the Gawker union vote that you might not — that might not be the case for other companies.

  • ALISON STEWART:

    What were they?

  • GABRIEL ARANA:

    So, the entire vote at Gawker was actually really easy.

    Usually when workers announce an effort to organize, there is a concerted campaign on the part of management to convince workers not to organize.

    But you really saw none of that in this case.

    Management took a relatively hands-off approach, and sort of in keeping with Gawker's culture, with their commitment to radical transparency, employees debated openly about the benefits and downside of organizing on Gawker's own site in public view — not to say there haven't been any problems.

    There are some complaints that communication between organizers and the staff could have been better.

    So, it wasn't perfect, but it's really remarkable for management's relatively hands-off approach.

    Labor leaders might hope that that will be the case everywhere. I think that the history of American labor cautions you to be careful.

  • ALISON STEWART:

    Gabriel Arana from Huffington Post, thanks so much.

  • GABRIEL ARANA:

    Thank you.

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