Unions, Media Companies and TPM

I was on vacation last week when I got the news that the TPM Union had ratified the contract we’d agreed upon. Without a doubt, the union makes TPM a better company. Now that I’m back in the office, I wanted to talk a bit about why.

Some of TPM’s longtime readers may know me but most of you will not so let me introduce myself. I’m Joe Ragazzo, executive publisher at TPM. In my previous life I was a journalist but moved over to the “business” side because it upset me how the news industry was dying and I hoped in some small way I could help improve it.

We have three simple goals at TPM. We want to do great journalism. We want to be the best media company at which to work. We want to make enough money to do the first two things.

I think every media company should unionize. No matter the best intentions of management —  myself included — there are blind spots. It’s arrogant to think that without giving the employees a literal seat at the table, without listening to their concerns and making a good faith effort to address them, that you can be a great employer over the long run.

When the TPM Union asked Josh Marshall to recognize the union, he did so within a couple hours. This gave me a great deal of pride. Over the last year or so, managing editor David Kurtz and I have negotiated with the union’s bargaining committee. Josh was in the background, he signed off on major points but largely left the negotiating to us. In my opinion, we came to a mutually beneficial agreement that locks in minimum salaries, annual raises, parental leave, and a number of other things.

One of the aspects of the contract that I’m most happy with is that a union member will join our Strategy Council. I think this is a big step for TPM. I will not bore you with my philosophies and beliefs about corporate governance, but it would be great for more companies to do something like this. Again, management has blind spots, and giving more of a voice to the employees will only make our journalism better and our employees happier.

TPM is a small, independent company. We don’t have loads of cash sitting around. Every dollar matters. In order for this place to be awesome, everyone has to be excited about working here and feel like they are valued. As management, we can say we care. We can say lots of things. But actually putting our promises into a contract, I think, demonstrates to the employees that it’s not just idle chatter.

If you are not yet a member at TPM, it’d be great if you’d consider joining. (If you’re already a member, maybe consider upgrading to Ad Free!) We depend on those memberships. Like I said, we’re a small, independent company. Membership dollars don’t line the pockets of investors. They pay the salaries of our reporters and programmers, and our rent and other operational costs. The vast majority of TPM’s budget goes to paying our personnel — we don’t spend money on much else — and the majority of our income comes from memberships. The short version of that is: When you buy a membership, it’s money that goes directly to the people who make TPM. We are living our values and I hope you’ll support us.

A final thought. If you work at a media company that isn’t unionized, you should consider unionizing. It’s better for everyone. You deserve the peace of mind of a contract. The idea that unions are a problem is farcical. The problems in media these days is that large corporations are pillaging local media and private equity is stripping journalism outfits down to their bare bones. There are media executives taking home huge bags of cash while paying employees next to nothing. Sometimes, they are taking home huge paychecks, not paying anyone decently — and their companies are still failing.

Unions are not some magic elixir and every contract is different, but it’s my firm belief that journalism would be in much better shape if everyone unionized and the actual journalists had a seat at the table.

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