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Writers Guild East Files Unfair Labor Practice Charge Against G/O Media Amid Fraught Negotiations

The Writers Guild of America East has filed an unfair labor practice charge against G/O Media, alleging that the media holding company has been “bargaining in bad faith” in ongoing negotiations over a new labor contract for creative staffers.

On Thursday the writers’ union alleged in the complaint to the National Labor Relations Board that the company had “engaged in threatening and intimidating behavior, made threats to cancel agreed upon release time for bargaining committee members, unilaterally cancelled previously agreed upon in-person negotiations with the Union, and failed to proffer management representatives with the authority to reach an agreement.” The WGA East represents 34 creative workers at G/O Media-owned brands The Onion, Onion Labs, The A.V. ClubDeadspin and The Takeout.

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At issue is an allegedly threatening email that the union says it received from a representative for management. G/O Media additionally canceled three previously scheduled in-person meetings in Chicago, where The Onion is based, and has refused to make any more compromises on their bargaining position, according to a union-side person familiar with negotiations.

“There’s no more movement happening,” said a representative for the WGA East. “You need two people to negotiate, two sides. We’re trying to get a deal, we’re trying to reach common ground. We keep moving [but] they have ceased to make any movement.”

The WGA East has reached out to a federal mediator and the company has agreed to meet with the mediator virtually, per the union-side source.

In a statement, a G/O Media spokesperson called the union’s assertions in the filing “offensive.” The spokesperson said this week’s negotiations “were always scheduled to be virtual, not in person” and denied that a representative from management sent a threatening email. “We have bargained in good faith throughout this process, and welcome the involvement of a mediator in a virtual setting as requested,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson added that the company’s latest offer represents a “meaningful improvement” from the bargaining unit’s current contract. “The union has yet to come forward with a serious proposal, and instead has made a series of outlandish demands that are completely disconnected from the current challenging economic environment facing all media companies,” the spokesperson said.

Negotiations over a new labor contract have been ongoing between labor and management since Nov. 20, 2023. The union is seeking guardrails on the use of AI, higher wages and raises and improvement to benefits. The talks so far have been fraught, with union members threatening that they will strike if a deal is not reached by the agreement’s expiration date of Jan. 31.

Meanwhile, as the negotiations continues, Adweek reported on Wednesday that the company is attempting to find buyers for various brands as headwinds continue to buffet the media business. A representative for G/O Media called the report “largely incorrect” but said the company is “always entertaining opportunities.”

The Onion Union said in a statement about Thursday’s charge, “We came ready to bargain for a fair contract and make movement to reach a middle ground. It’s unfortunate that management is not interested in getting a deal or bargaining in good faith. We’re simply asking for fair pay and basic protections against AI, which is an existential threat to our industry. There is one person standing in the way of this deal: G/O Media CEO Jim Spanfeller.”

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