MTV News to Unionize With Writers Guild East

The MTV logo in 2016
Jason Kempin/Getty Images for MTV

The MTV logo on display during the MTV Press Junket on Feb. 18, 2016 in West Hollywood, Calif.  

The development continues the WGAE's success in organizing digital news writers.

The editorial staff at MTV News plans to unionize with the Writers Guild of America, East, the guild announced Friday. A union spokesman told The Hollywood Reporter that about eighty percent of the fifty-employee bargaining unit had signed representation cards.

MTV, a unit of Viacom, can now choose whether to voluntarily negotiate with the WGAE or insist upon a formal election. The company declined to comment.

"MTV News is an icon and its editorial staff speak to, and for, America's diverse and connected youth," said WGAE executive director Lowell Peterson. "In an age when independent voices are more essential than ever, we are heartened that these digital news creators recognize collective bargaining is the most effective way to protect those voices and to address critical issues like transparency in compensation and other policies, reasonable benefits for all, and supporting an inclusive workplace."

The MTV organizing campaign is part of the WGAE’s Writers Guild 2.0 campaign focusing on digital media. The campaign began in 2009 with representation of digital workers at broadcast entities such as CBS, and accelerated in 2015 when the union began meeting with Gawker employees.

There are now 500 digital journalists covered by the WGAE, Peterson told THR, at companies including Gizmodo Media Group (Gizmodo, Fusion, The Root, Jezebel and other sites), Vice, Think Progress and the Huffington Post.

According to a letter from the MTV News Unionizing Committee to their colleagues, the reasons they’re seeking to unionize include healthcare and benefits, which are not available to permalancers, who they said are a majority; legal protection such as indemnification to protect freedom of speech; editorial communication and transparency, including a role in crafting editorial policy; a formalized diversity plan; and guidelines for salaries and severance.

"There has never been a more critically important time in our lives to have the protections of a union, especially for those of us in media," the letter reads. "Our work requires us to cover culture and politics in an increasingly volatile climate. Under the new Trump administration, we are acutely aware of how necessary our constitutional rights are, and how much we need legal protection."

Said Peterson, "[W]hen editorial employees at MTV News expressed interest in working with the WGAE we were happy to be part of those efforts. They are smart, engaged and committed to the work that leads to successful negotiations, and to contracts that address their real needs."