In order to stave off further cuts, BuzzFeed News staff struck a deal with management to share duties across the company’s editorial union, which is organized through the New York chapter of the NewsGuild (which also represents numerous publications including The Daily Beast).
According to people familiar with the plan, beginning in early June the company will submit workshare plans to the relevant unemployment agencies for staff in its major hubs of New York, California, and D.C. The majority of the 70-plus member union, which includes most of the publication’s journalists, will work a 20-percent reduced schedule and receive 20-percent reduced pay until the end of 2020. The aim of workshare is to allow staff to file claims for partial unemployment in order to somewhat offset salary losses.
“We decided as a unit that we were willing to fight for a solution that would let us share the impact of further cuts, even if it takes hard work and navigating a fair amount of bureaucracy, rather than having to say goodbye to a full fifth of our co-workers,” culture editor Rachel Sanders told The Daily Beast.
BuzzFeed was one of the first major national media companies to implement broad cost-cutting measures as a result of the downturn in revenue linked to the outbreak of COVID-19. In mid-March, BuzzFeed announced tiered pay cuts across the board for staff, with the lowest-paid staffers seeing a 5% salary cut and the highest bracket taking a 25% salary hit (CEO Jonah Peretti pledged to staff then that he would not take a salary for the duration of the crisis).
But earlier this month, the company announced that it would furlough nearly 70 non-union staff for several months, and that it would need to negotiate further cuts with the organization’s newsroom. BuzzFeed also pulled the plug on its UK and Australia outposts amid the crisis. The union subsequently pitched a temporary workshare program, which company management agreed to.
While Friday’s agreement stipulated that BuzzFeed will not attempt to reduce the news team workforce through the end of the year, it did leave open the door for more furloughs if deemed necessary, as well as further layoffs if the company’s financial projections indicate higher-than-anticipated losses.
The agreement also noted that several BuzzFeed News staffers have voluntarily agreed to be furloughed, and that the company would be allowed to involuntarily furlough a small, additional number of staffers. The agreement also stipulated that the organization’s 401k-matching program would be suspended for the rest of the year.
BuzzFeed News is not the only news organization to experiment with a workshare system. Organizers at the Los Angeles Times announced on May 1 that 440 staffers would receive a 20-percent pay and hour reduction for 12 weeks in order to avert layoffs. Unionized staff at Vice also sought a workshare program to avert layoffs that cut 150 jobs earlier this month, but said that the company would not entertain the idea.
Sanders said the Times was an inspiration for the effort, and that employees spoke with the paper’s union staff about how to implement a similar program.