Arbitrary firings, uncertain future lead Sports Illustrated staffers to seek to unionize with News Guild

SPORTS ILLUSTRATED staffers have fallen victim to the same profit seeking job cuts that have hit other print publications in recent years. In response, full-time staffers are seeking to join the News Guild. – Sports Illustrated photo

New York (PAI) — Arbitrary firings by a new management firm that has no sports news experience, and an uncertain future featuring deep reliance on “stringers” led more than 90 percent of the remaining 80 full-time staffers of iconic Sports Illustrated magazine to sign union recognition election cards, submit them to management and demand voluntary recognition of their decision to join The News Guild of New York.

The staff’s decision to unionize follows a pattern set at other media firms, where new owners or managers – often hedge funds – have taken over, cut jobs in the name of profits, and endangered or downgraded quality.

In response, to defend both themselves and their readers and subscribers, the staffs of publications ranging from the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times to the Denver Post and a large group of local newspapers in Virginia have joined News Guild locals in the last year-plus.

The staff acted after the new owners, a Seattle-based outfit called TheMaven, told its managers, a firm called Meredith, to fire 40 people, with at least 24 them women and people of color – thus leaving a mostly white staff to cover mostly minority college and professional sports teams, augmented by hiring stringers. TheMaven had bought SI from Meredith three months before, and Meredith in turn had owned it only a short time.

Job security, severance and layoff protections, pay equity, workplace safety, diversity in hiring and advancement, and a voice in editorial strategy were key issues in the organizing drive. But so was a commitment to quality.

“Decisions made by new management over the last few months have put SI’s reputation and long-term health at risk. The October layoffs at Maven’s direction gutted our newsroom. Two dozen employees who lost their jobs were women or people of color, leaving us less representative of the world we cover,” staff said today in an open letter to management,” the organizing committee said in a staff-wide letter.

“As journalists, we hold the teams and athletes we cover accountable. It is our responsibility to do the same in our own workplace,” senior writer Jenny Vrentas told the New York Guild. “We are unionizing to ensure that Sports Illustrated is a safe, inclusive place to work, where all employees are treated equally and can continue to perform our jobs at a high level.”

Sports Illustrated’s newsroom was unionized when Time, Inc., owned it and Jack Dickey, an associate editor, said the Guild contract then provided “basic protections” that let staffers produce “our finest journalism…by making SI a great place to work.”

“As we turn the page to a new era, it is essential that all journalists here receive those same protections,” Dickey said. Senior writer Alex Prewitt said TheMaven “can show its commitment to creating a stronger, fairer workplace for every print, video, and digital staffer by recognizing the union without delay.”

“The News Guild of New York proudly represented print employees” at the magazine for decades, said new local President Susan DeCarava. “Employees with a contractually-protected voice in their workplace are invested in the future of their publication. We stand together in urging management to demonstrate trust in their staff and respect for this iconic publication by swiftly recognizing the union.” TheMaven had no immediate response to the staff’s unionization decision.



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