Business

BuzzFeed Founder Jonah Peretti: “I Don’t Think A Union Is Right” For Staff

At a company meeting on Thursday, BuzzFeed’s CEO told staff that unionization “isn’t something I think would be great for the company.”

Jonah Peretti, founder and CEO of BuzzFeed. Jason Decrow / AP

BuzzFeed’s founder and CEO Jonah Peretti has told staff that he doesn’t think unionization is “the right idea” for BuzzFeed.

“I think unions have had a positive impact on a lot of places, like if you’re working on an assembly line,” Peretti said at a company meeting. In such cases, “if you’re negotiating with management it can make a huge difference, particularly when labor is more replaceable.”

In contrast, he said BuzzFeed patterns itself after companies like Google and Facebook, which compete for less replaceable talent by offering better compensation and benefits.

“They’re all trying to get the very best talent. That’s how I see BuzzFeed as well,” Peretti said. “We need to provide amazing benefits. We need to provide as much incentive for people to pick BuzzFeed over any other company.”

Peretti said unionized companies typically have an “adversarial” relationship between managers and employees, where lawyers negotiate compensation for workers by looking at compensation at comparable companies. He said this practice might not benefit workers at BuzzFeed.

“I think that actually wouldn’t be very good for employees at BuzzFeed — particularly people who are writers and reporters,” said Peretti, “because the [compensation] for writers and reporters are much less favorable than [compensation] for startup companies and tech companies.”

He also said unions frequently define individual roles and job functions, which could inhibit a “flexible and dynamic company.”

Legally, employees have the right to form a union regardless of management’s position towards unionization.

In recent months, the writers at several large digital media companies have unionized, including Gawker, the Guardian US, Salon, and Vice. Management did not oppose any of the drives and voluntarily recognized the unions. Upworthy’s management discouraged unionization, with co-founder Eli Pariser telling Gawker he told staff that “doing this now at Upworthy could come at a cost to the company in terms of our ability to raise capital.”

While the question from an employee at the BuzzFeed company meeting demonstrates some degree of curiosity among staff, there is currently no active unionization drive underway at BuzzFeed, based on an informal internal survey of writers in the New York and San Francisco newsrooms on Friday.

The full question, submitted anonymously, was: “Several media outlets have recently unionized, do you consider that an option for BuzzFeed? What’s Jonah’s position on unionization?”

His answer, in full, is below:

“I think unions have had a positive impact on a lot of places, like if you’re working on an assembly line, and if you’re negotiating with management it can make a huge difference, particularly when labor is more replaceable. And I think I don’t think a union is right for BuzzFeed for two reasons.

One, I think the way we pattern BuzzFeed is after companies like Google and Facebook, and the tech startups are very, very competitive for talent. They’re all trying to get the very best talent. That’s how I see BuzzFeed as well. We need to provide amazing benefits, we need to provide as much incentive for people to pick BuzzFeed over any other company.

A lot of the best new-economy companies are environments where there’s an alliance between managers and employees. People have shared goals. Benefits and perks and compensation are very competitive, and I feel like that’s the kind of market we’re in. A lot of times when you look at companies that have unionized, the relationship is very different. The relationship is much more adversarial, and you have lawyers negotiating for comp and looking at comparable companies and trying to keep compensation matched with other companies.

I think that actually wouldn’t be very good for employees at BuzzFeed — particularly people who are writers and reporters — because the comps for writers and reporters are much less favorable than comps for startup companies and tech companies. In general, I don’t think it’s the right idea for us. The only thing about BuzzFeed is that we’re global, most unions are national. We have people who move between different roles and in general unions do a lot of defining clearly what individual roles, and what the job function is. So for a flexible, dynamic company, it isn’t something I think would be great for the company.”

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Cora Lewis is a business reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Lewis reports on labor.
Contact Cora Lewis at cora.lewis@buzzfeed.com.
 
 

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