The Face of Unions is Becoming Younger and More Educated

What comes to mind when you think about unions? Typically, people think of heavy industry, baby boomers, and seniority privileges. This picture of unions could be changing given the recent decision of Gawker Media to unionize. Gawker Media is a digital media outlet comprised mostly of college-educated, tech-savvy employees in their 20s and 30s. Recently they voted by a margin of 80 to 27 to join the Writers Guild of America East. Other digital media companies Salon, Guardian US, and Vice Media all quickly followed suit.

The parties have yet to negotiate their union contract, but it will be interesting to see if this contract reflects the young, educated population that makes up the union. Gawker staff members claim that their contract won’t look anything like a traditional union contract. The organizers noted that the benefits they are seeking through the union contract include: severance pay; salary minimums for each position; annual meetings with supervisors to discuss performance, salary, and promotions; and a bar against changing the company health plan without union approval. Of course, it remains to be seen whether the Gawker employees will obtain any of these contract terms.

The support of unions from younger employees should cause some concern for companies. A national survey indicates that young adults view unions more favorably than other age groups with 55% of those ages 18 to 29 viewing unions positively. It will be interesting to see whether the Gawker Media staff obtains a union contract that lives up to its expectations or if the employees struggle to break away from the more traditional picture of a union.

Matt Austin is a lawyer based in the Columbus, Ohio office of Roetzel & Andress, LPA who limits his practice to representing employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can call Matt at (614) 723-2010 or email him at maustin@ralaw.com.

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