For the past decade, modern tech companies have been known for employee perks like free gourmet meals and naps. Today, some workers believe that open plan offices and ping pong tables are no substitutes for equity and stability.
Medium employees announced on Thursday that they were forming a union. It will be known as the Medium Workers Union, a chapter of the Communications Workers of America.
In its current form, Medium is both a technology company that makes a publishing platform and an editorial organization that makes multiple publications on various industries such as technology, science, politics, and more. The union will include workers from all parts of the company, including “engineering, editing, design, product and other departments,” the letter announced in the letter announcing the workers’ union efforts.
Medium’s position as a hybrid company positions it well to take the media-to-technology trade union trend.
In response to frequent layoffs and reorganizations in the media, union formation has become common in the newsrooms: Axios reported in 2019 that more than 30 media unions were formed between 2017 and 2019. (Mashable editorial staff partnered with the NewsGuild of New York in 2018).
In the technology industry, employees from big tech companies and start-ups have been actively committed to improving their working conditions in recent years. Notably, these efforts began with worker protests against sexual abuse and other workplace equality issues at Google in 2018, as well as climate justice campaigns among Amazon workers. While organizing around topics has become more common in the technology industry, for the most part it has not extended to full union formation.
There are a few exceptions. Kickstarter employees started organizing in 2019, which messed up management who fired two organizers (organizers say in retaliation, but Kickstarter denies this). The employees then voted in early 2020 to form a union. At Google, 225 employees organized in January to found the Alphabet Workers Union. Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama are currently voting on union formation. (Amazon has been accused of spying on its European workforce’s efforts to organize work, but in a statement to Vice, a spokesman said its internal investigation team only looked at security issues.)
Specifically, in their announcement, the medium workers list some of their reasons for unionizing as a tech media company.
“Technology and media are at a crossroads, and it is more important than ever that companies in both industries are fair and support their employees.”
“We organize because both technology and media are at a crossroads and it is more important than ever that companies in both industries are fair and support their employees,” the letter said. “This is the age of newsroom takeovers, breakdown of startups, tech companies shifting more jobs to contractors, and the general implosion of independent media. Both tech and media companies are constantly changing direction, disintegrating and reforming , turning and refocusing. This often creates business benefits, but it also changes workers’ lives. “
This is a story medium employees know all too well. Medium was founded in 2012 and has gone through several restructurings and reinventions in its relatively short lifespan of eight years. It started as a publishing platform for users, then started a magazine with paid authors and editors and a distribution platform for other publications. Then the editorial (including mass layoffs) was closed and the original form was used again as a pure publishing platform. In 2018 it returned to the hybrid model.
Medium’s current editorial offering is robust. But also the original Matter magazine before the company’s “collapse” in 2017, as Business Insider put it, during which the publication as a whole was undone.
Nothing will prevent Medium from swinging another pendulum in the future. But next time there is, Medium staff hope their new union is there to protect them.