WGA East Files Unfair Labor Practices Charge Against Bustle Digital Group

The WGA East has filed an unfair labor practice charge against the Bustle Digital Group, claiming that three of the 39 guild members who were laid off there recently were terminated “in retaliation for their concerted, protected union activity in violation of the National Labor Relations Act.”

Members of the guild’s BDG bargaining unit, wearing union shirts and Napoleonic hats, delivered the unfair labor practices charges today to the office of BDG CEO Bryan Goldberg — who paid $1.4 million in 2021 for one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s rare two-cornered hats.

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“The company’s decision to lay-off three WGA East unit members for concerted, protected activity causes an overall chilling effect on all concerted and protected union activity in violation of the NLRA,” the guild said in its complaint, which was filed today with the National Labor Relations Board.

Prior to the layoffs this month, the guild represented more than 130 of the company’s employees at several of its media outlets, including Gawker, Bustle, Inverse, Nylon, Elite Daily, Mic, Some Spider and Scary Mommy. Gawker was shut down – for the second time – on February 1. The guild has been attempting to negotiate a contract with the parent company Bustle Digital Group for nearly two years.

“Our goal is to negotiate a fair contract, to ensure that the people we represent at BDG have a voice on the job and the protections they need,” said WGA East Executive Director Lowell Peterson. “We cannot, and will not, stand by while BDG undermines the process by committing unfair labor practices.”

The guild claims that the layoffs “unjustly included three prominent and active union members. These three unit members did not squarely fit into the categories BDG laid out to the WGA East representatives – or in the company’s public messaging – regarding the layoffs. However, all three were regularly engaged in protected, concerted activity on behalf of the union of which management was well aware.”

Those three persons are Collette Reitz, former editor at Elite Daily; Emma Sarran Webster, former editor at Mic; and Sophie Worm, former video editor at Some Spider. “Moreover, the company did not provide any rationale for their decision to layoff three active union supporters,” the guild said.

The guild’s complaint also notes that on February 6, bargaining unit members “took part in concerted, protected activity” by changing the avatars and names on the company’s Slack – an instant messaging program – to “pro-union message and posting pro-union message.” According to the complaint, the company then blocked all employees from posting there and locked out all Inverse employees from their Slack, “making it impossible to work. The company’s retaliatory lock out is in violation of the NLRA.”

“After we exercised our legal right to call for a fair contract,” the BDG bargaining unit said in a statement, “management kicked the Inverse team off of Slack – preventing the team from working for part of the morning. Management also has banned employees indefinitely from posting in the general BDG Slack, where we have previously sent messages demanding a contract, in addition to deleting all evidence of our protest. Today, we are delivering Unfair Labor Practice charges, specifically relating to illegal retaliation, to the office of BDG CEO Bryan Goldberg while donning union shirts and Napoleon hats — since Goldberg was happy to spend over $1 million on a hat but refuses to bargain fairly with the employees that create all of the revenue-generating content. We hope that our special Valentine’s card spurs management to proceed with fair bargaining.”

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