Dotdash Meredith union members marched on a top exec at the publisher of People, Entertainment Weekly, and more, as their 2-year contract battle heats up

  • Union organizers at Dotdash Meredith staged a march in the office Wednesday as contract negotiations hit walls.
  • The union has grown frustrated by impasses over issues like wages, healthcare, and more, sources said.
  • Dotdash Meredith publishes leading media brands like People, Entertainment Weekly, and other titles.

Tensions are rising within Dotdash Meredith, the publisher behind popular magazines such as People and digital properties such as Entertainment Weekly, where the union representing many of the company’s journalists is stepping up efforts to win what it calls a fair contract after two years of negotiating.

The organizers of the Dotdash Meredith Union took a step on Wednesday to demonstrate their readiness to escalate their efforts. Multiple people with direct knowledge of the negotiations told Insider that more than two dozen union members marched on a senior company executive, amid ongoing discord over raises and wages, healthcare, the company’s return-to-work policy, and artificial intelligence — some of the key issues obstructing an agreement.

One of these individuals stated, “We’re certainly going to escalate” as needed. Various actions, including a potential strike, are being considered, though a full work stoppage is “not something that’s immediately on the table at all,” according to the person, adding that “we would absolutely use it if we needed it.” (A strike would necessitate a strike-authorization vote of the union’s membership, which has not been scheduled.)

Due to the sensitivity of the ongoing negotiations, Dotdash Meredith sources requested anonymity in order to speak freely about the status of negotiations and the union’s thinking. Requests for comment from Dotdash Meredith were not returned.

Marchers wore Meredith Union T-shirts and staged the incident at the publisher’s lower Manhattan offices, attempting to confront Leah Wyar Romito, president of the company’s Entertainment and Beauty & Style group, according to three people familiar with the action. The union, which has about 160 members and represents employees at publications such as People, People TV, EW, Shape, and the Martha Stewart website, organized more than 30 people to participate, some of whom were recruited via Zoom. The majority were associated with People, People TV, and EW.

“We’ve spoken to management across the table and appealed to their common sense,” a second union source said, adding, “People should see this as us saying, ‘We’ve tried to bargain.'” That isn’t working. Now we must make demands, and we must do so with force.”

However, because the marchers were unable to locate Wyar Romito, they left a copy of their demands for her before union leaders met with management later that day. According to the first source, the mood during bargaining was “cordial,” but management failed to come up with proposals that were economically acceptable to workers.

“We came to talk to Leah Wyar, the head of the entertainment group, because we’re all very frustrated that it’s almost 2024 and we still don’t have a fair contract yet, even though our asks are very reasonable, and despite the fact that we’ve all been told to come into the office as much as we can — especially today, which is a Dotdash Meredith all-hands meeting,” one speaker said at the march outside Wyar Romito’s “Leah’s nowhere to be found, so in her absence, we’re going to make our demands clear,” said the speaker, who went on to say: “Where are you, Leah and management?”

Wyar Romito did not respond to comment requests.

The march is the latest in a saga that began earlier this year when union organizers filed unfair labor practice charges against Dotdash Meredith with the National Labor Relations Board. The union announced on social media that an administrative trial related to the charges — which relate to how the company allegedly treated some employees and job seekers, withheld raises, and implemented a return-to-work mandate without the union’s agreement — is scheduled for January.

Prior to the Wednesday bargaining session, march participants were captured on video clapping and repeating the refrain, “Fair contract now.”

Dotdash Meredith Union organizers are vowing not to back down

Dotdash Meredith had faced internal challenges prior to this week’s incident, with Insider reporting earlier this year that staffers at publications such as People were offered voluntary buyouts to leave their jobs following the publisher’s 7% headcount reduction in January.

Dozens of employees had left Dotdash Meredith in the previous 18 months, according to the first source, who described it as a “mass exodus” that far outnumbered the number who accepted buyouts. (The source also stated that the company has begun hiring to replenish lost headcount.)

Meanwhile, the company’s three-day-per-week return-to-work policy has deepened the schism between workers and management, contributing to the charges the union filed with the NLRB.

According to two of the three sources, Neil Vogel, Dotdash Meredith’s CEO, stated in a town hall meeting on Wednesday, prior to the march, that some employees violated the RTO rule. According to the sources, Vogel warned that noncompliance would be addressed, though it is unclear how the company would seek to discipline those who fail to meet the mandate. Vogel did not respond to comment requests.

Aside from RTO, compensation and merit-based raises are major points of contention. The two sides remain far apart on financial matters, according to the sources, who added that the company’s healthcare plan was another stumbling block, with the company refusing to switch to a lower-cost option.

A schism is also brewing over artificial intelligence safeguards. According to union sources, workers are seeking a provision that prohibits the use of AI in the creation of journalistic content, but the publisher has so far refused to agree to such a provision. (Sources admitted they were unaware of any instances in which the company was actively using AI to handle tasks that were traditionally handled by humans.)

According to the sources, the next bargaining session will take place in about three weeks.

The situation at Dotdash Meredith occurs as a wave of labor activity sweeps industries ranging from entertainment to automotive manufacturing, bringing issues such as stagnant wages, inflation, and the rise of artificial intelligence to the forefront of a national debate. Strikes have also occurred at the New York Times and Insider, whose unions are organized through the NewsGuild of New York.

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