THIS IS WHO WE ARE
We, the podcast producers, editors, researchers, writers, and hosts of iHeartMedia, are thrilled to announce that we are unionizing with the Writers Guild of America, East. Months of discussion with our colleagues have clarified some things: First, we love the community we have created at iHeart. We work shoulder to shoulder with some of the most creative minds in the business, who have come to feel more like family. We are devoted and passionate storytellers who take pride in our ability to provide our listeners with entertaining, thought-provoking audio content and, most importantly, companionship.
However, during difficult times, we are reminded that while the iHeart Digital Audio Group prides itself on its relative autonomy and ability to adapt to the shifting needs of the marketplace—much like a start-up—we work under the capacity constraints of a legacy broadcast conglomerate. Essentially, we have been encouraged to embrace the dynamism of start-up culture without any of the associated benefits.
Throughout the unprecedented challenges of the last two years, we managed to seamlessly transition to remote work; our adaptability helped the company not just sustain, but thrive during a period of economic uncertainty and social unrest. During team calls, town halls, and official email communications from leadership, we are frequently reminded of the financial gains that we helped make possible. Bob Pittman, CEO and Chairman of iHeartMedia, reported during last month’s quarterly earnings call that Digital Audio revenue increased by 77 percent compared to 2020. Our division’s significant growth was “driven primarily by continuing increases in demand for digital advertising and the continued growth of podcasting,” where revenue is up 184 percent compared to 2020.
Unfortunately, those gains have not reached the creators working round-the-clock to keep our audience of more than 30 million monthly listeners actively engaged. With hundreds of shows across all categories and genres, many of us are doing the work of multiple employees, and the huge volume of content we are responsible for is not met with equitable compensation. Furthermore, we lack transparency in workplace decision making, meaningful initiatives toward diversity and inclusion, fairness in managerial relationships, and clarity in divisions of labor. While we are proud to be an essential part of iHeartMedia’s success over the past few years, we are keenly aware of significant internal pay disparities between similarly positioned individuals within the company. And across the board, iHeartMedia’s overall compensation and benefits standards are wholly insufficient when compared to the greater podcast and scripted audio market.
Due to these working conditions, the creators of iHeart’s podcasts have banded together in order to help determine the best path forward so that iHeart can remain competitive, retain existing talent, and attract new voices to the network, all while creating a more equitable, transparent, and democratic workplace. Key elements of these goals include, but are not limited to:
- Appropriate compensation and benefits
- Accountability mechanisms regarding diversity and inclusion efforts
- Manageable workloads and appropriate staffing for shows
- Clear paths for advancement and standardized job descriptions
- Job security
We ask that iHeart leadership voluntarily recognize our union, and we look forward to working with our company’s leadership throughout the bargaining process to reach these objectives. In doing so, we can ensure that iHeart’s growth remains sustainable and that we retain our position as an industry leader.
The iHeart Podcast Union
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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
A union is organized when a group of employees (in this case, the podcast production staff iHeartMedia) gather together to advocate for their interests and negotiate a contract with management to set minimum standards. Union contracts are common in our industry and can address everything from salaries and benefits to diversity and inclusion. Across the media industry there are hundreds of examples of union contracts improving workplaces with transparency and equity – achieved by the employees who joined with the other union members across the country to lift standards for all.
The Writers Guild of America, East is a labor union of over 6,000 creative professionals in broadcast news, scripted television and motion pictures, and digital media. For decades, the Writers Guild has been essential in fighting for better standards in working conditions, compensation, and the rights of its members in their industry. The WGAE’s mission is to build a community of creative professionals with the willingness to support one another and the power to secure fair standards across the media industry. For more information on the WGAE, please visit www.wgaeast.org.
Here is a great example of how WGAE members stood together to support over 500 editorial staff at Hearst Magazines who organized to join the union (and it includes some highlights of what union members have won in their WGAE contracts):
Writers Guild members already have union contracts at CBS News, ABC News, and local affiliates (along with thousands of other television news workers who belong to other unions). Here are some great examples.
In the past six years, thousands of media employees have come together to unionize their workplaces and negotiate union contracts. Fundamentally, the demand of any group of workers forming a union is the same—to win a formal seat at the table in order to negotiate over the future of their workplace and raise standards across their industry. Each group decides what to advocate for at the bargaining table as a union.
Though priorities vary from workplace to workplace, the issues tend to revolve around the same categories. Media employees want to address core economic concerns, including: pay equity and transparency, preserving or improving benefits (leave time, 401k, health insurance), regular and fair cost of living increases, working conditions (such as hours), job security, and intellectual property and proper crediting. Creative professionals also negotiate to address workplace “culture” issues, including: diversity and equity, corporate transparency and communication, and editorial policies and independence.
Negotiating a union contract is a core element of any unionized workplace, however, it doesn’t stop there. Organized workplaces have structures for democratic representation and collective decision making processes. That means that unionized companies have mechanisms in place to share information with all employees and to take collective action if and when necessary. This includes, for example, regular meetings with management and organizing workplace diversity committees.
Read more from Thrillist Union member Anthony Schneck in his own words why he and co-workers came together to organize a union.
Leadership, internal structures, and programming at news companies can change rapidly. Organizing is a way to ensure a seat at the table and guarantee terms of employment, including policies on severance, layoffs, discipline, and termination. Companies expand rapidly and workers deserve to participate in decisions made about the future of the companies they helped build. Union membership expands the role of staff in the decision-making process and the direction of a company. Union members in media participate in building the company through the creation of committees and increased communication and collaboration across regions and departments.
Additionally, organizing a union isn’t only about the future of one company. Industries with union density have fewer pay gaps and higher pay overall. Union members across the industry are working together to support each other and build a long-term movement to address and change systemic issues like diversifying the media industry and protecting critical journalism.
A workplace is “officially” union upon winning union recognition. Union recognition means that the company has a legal obligation to bargain a contract. Many media companies have respected their employees’ democratic right to organize and recognize their employees’ unions after a neutral third party verifies that a majority of employees have signed union cards or petitions (this was the case at Gimlet Media, Parcast, The Ringer, and many other media companies in the past several years). We certainly hope iHeartMedia will respect our rights, avoid unnecessary delays, and voluntarily recognize our union.
Some media companies insist on a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election to certify union representation. Should the c-suite refuse to voluntarily recognize our union, we would then file an election petition with the NLRB to secure an irrefutable union victory. You can read more about the NLRB election process here
After winning recognition, we will nominate a bargaining committee that will negotiate a first contract with the company based on our entire group filling out bargaining surveys. A union contract is only in effect after being bargained and voted into place by the employees covered by the union.
Collective bargaining is just that – bargaining. There are no guarantees of what we will win in a first contract, but there is a guarantee that the network must bargain in good faith with the elected committee made up of iHeart WGAE members. The entire bargaining unit (every iHeart employee eligible for union membership) would then vote on whether to ratify the contract before anyone is responsible for union dues.
WGAE members across the industry (including Vox Media, Gimlet Media, and The Ringer) have bargained terrific contracts that guarantee good salary minimums with annual raises, excellent benefits, compensation/overtime for long hours, and help to ensure fairer workplaces. You can read more about Gimlet Media and The Ringer’s first contract here.
It is our legal right to organize a union at work. The WGAE takes that right very seriously and stands with employees to see that they are protected when they organize. You can read about your legal right to form a union on the National Labor Relations Board website.
Beyond the legal protection from any kind of company retaliation, the union is a way to ensure we have job protection through the solidarity and strength of our coworkers. When hundreds of people come together and support one another through a union, we are protected from bad or retaliatory management behavior. No one individual can be singled out. This is not the case in a non-union work environment.
In addition, we face an environment now in which we have no protection against unilateral cuts and changes, and no guaranteed voice in shaping the future of our network.
Given the global pandemic, we find ourselves in a unique moment – obviously, these are unprecedented times. iHeart executives may use this talking point to try to persuade us that now is not the right time to form a union. But it’s just the opposite: it is clear that we need to have a seat at the table. We formed our union to ensure that we all have a voice and more security at work, and to bring us together in times of great difficulty. And we believe that the best way to navigate the ever-changing media industry, pandemic or not, is together.
We might hear that unions create divisiveness between staff and management. Joining a union does not mean all conversations or disagreements will become contentious. Employees can still try to work out issues with their managers through direct, polite conversation. However, if there is a conflict that has become intractable, unions provide employees an additional resource (and the support of fellow members) for resolution. In addition, a union contract will guarantee minimum standards for employees.
The iHeart Podcast Division unionization effort was started as an act of optimism to make sure every single employee has a safe, fair, and equitable working environment, not to stoke division.
A union contract also does not mean that merit raises, or higher salaries based on seniority, vanish. Once a union is recognized a “status quo period” takes effect meaning management cannot cut salaries, or take away benefits without a negotiation. Management is still allowed to give merit based raises during this time.
One of the most common anti-union talking points is the idea that the union is an outside entity that will impose restrictive rules or create more bureaucracy. Management will often ask staff to give the company a chance to make improvements before bringing in a union. But the union is not a third party. It’s all of our colleagues coming together to establish common priorities and bargain collectively over the terms and conditions of our employment. It’s the only way for staff to have a guaranteed seat at the table and a guaranteed say in pay, working conditions, and benefits. The union can be used to establish things like employee site reps and labor management committees, which will increase, not limit, open lines of communication.
Often these types of messages are delivered by management via email as well as individual and group meetings. Most anti-union campaigns use the same script – one example is management’s unsuccessful anti-union campaign at Thrillist. Management is not allowed to interrogate, intimidate or threaten you over your union activity. If you feel your rights have been infringed upon, contact the iHeart Podcast Union organizing committee: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Organizing a union is the best way to protect the benefits we currently have, which are at the full discretion of management in a non-union environment. Once our union is recognized, the company must maintain the status quo and can no longer make unilateral changes to terms and conditions of employment; any changes must be negotiated through collective bargaining.
Dues ensure that Guild members have the resources to organize, negotiate and enforce strong contracts, seek legal support, and implement member-driven events and programs.
No one pays dues until a first contract is negotiated and voted upon. It’s up to us to work together to advocate for a strong contract and then decide, through voting, whether or not to ratify the contract.
WGAE dues are set by the WGAE Council (a governing body made up of elected members). Dues are 1.5% of earnings + $40/quarter membership fee. After a contract is negotiated and ratified, dues are deducted each pay period. Upon leaving a union shop, individuals can decide to continue paying the $40/quarter fee to retain Guild membership. The initiation fee is a one-time $500 fee that is waived for anyone on staff before a union contract is in place; it is paid in installments by anyone hired after contract ratification.
Absolutely not! We all want to broaden our skillset and grow in our jobs. What we don’t want is to face years of doing higher level work without the title or the pay. When we have the ability to negotiate over job descriptions, paths to promotion, and opportunities for growth without the potential for exploitation, we’ll be able to ensure a fairer system for all of us.
Realistically, management probably will resist making at least some of the changes a union asks for during the bargaining process. This is where our democratic process matters most. The bargaining committee will do extensive outreach to make sure we’re democratically and accurately fighting for the changes our members want. We can take collective action and call on fellow WGA members and allies to help advocate for changes if progress does not happen at the bargaining table.
We might hear that unions create divisiveness between staff and management. Joining a union does not mean all conversations or disagreements will become contentious. Employees can still try to work out issues with their managers through direct, polite conversation. However, if there is a conflict that has become intractable, unions provide employees an additional resource (and the support of fellow members) for resolution.
ABOUT THE WGAE
The Writers Guild of America, East is a labor union of thousands of creative professionals who create media, broadcast news, scripted television and motion pictures. For decades the Writers Guild has been essential in fighting for better standards in working conditions, compensation, and the respect of dignity of members. The WGAE’s mission is to build a community of creative professionals with the willingness to support each other and the power to secure fair industry standards.