By Mike Elk
Today, media workers at Law360 struck a decisive blow in the burgeoning media workers rights movement. Staff at the legal news publication voted 109 to 9 to join the NewsGuild in a National Labor Relations Board election. The victory at Law360 opens the door for further organizing at mainstream corporate media outlets.
In the last year, over nine digital media outlets have voted to join unions, in the biggest wave of unionization to hit the media industry in decades. However, the campaign at Law360 was by far one of the toughest fought campaigns of the digital media unionization movement.
Nearly a year ago, legal reporter Stephanie Russell-Kraft was illegally fired from a job at Reuters. Law360 had forced Russell-Kraft to sign a non-compete clause saying that she would not work for another legal news organization. After two years of working at Law360, Russell-Kraft took a job at Reuters covering legal issues.
Two weeks into her new job, Law360’s general counsel contacted Reuters and threatened to sue them if Russell-Kraft was not fired. Two days later, she was terminated. She has been doing freelance work since.
The firing motivated many Law360 staffers to seek the protection of a union. After ten months of solid organizing work, the group petitioned the company to be represented by a union last month.
However, Law360’s parent company, Lexis-Nexis, resisted the efforts to unionize. The company hired the notorious anti-union law firm Jackson Lewis and anti-union consultant Labor Relations Institute. The company forced workers to attend anti-union meetings and begged the workers to give Law360 the proverbial “second chance.”
Law360 reporters responded by live tweeting the anti-union meetings and making fun of the presentations. Using the hashtag #Law360union, the media workers tweeted photos of themselves wearing union buttons and displaying signs at work. Dozens of other pro-union workers tweeted photos of solidarity.
Up until the end, management resisted attempts by the workers to unionize, and challenged several of the mail-in ballots sent to the NLRB. But when the result of the votes were announced, Law360 staffers took to Twitter to celebrate.
“Hey ma, looks like I dun gone joined a union,” tweeted Law360 staffer Dorothy M. Atkins.
The newly unionized workers at Law360 are almost certain to face an uphill battle to negotiate a first contract, as the company is refusing to even sign off on the certification of the vote. Regardless, the workers have momentum and resolve on their side. As Stephanie Russell-Kraft tweeted, “Hey #Law360Union, you wonder why your reporters want a union so badly? You’re challenging a 109-9 yes vote #law360union.”
The vote is a resounding win for the digital media unionization movement. Prior to this successful union election, nearly all of the outlets that had unionized where left-leaning outlets. With this victory, efforts to organize other mainstream corporate media outlets are likely to pick up steam.
Mike Elk is the senior labor reporter at Payday Report and a member of the Washington-Baltimore NewsGuild. He previously served as senior labor reporter at POLITICO and at In These Times Magazine.