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Elk renews Politico unionization drive, announces 'everyone gets laid' birthday party

• June 4, 2015 2:40 pm


Staffers at Gawker voted overwhelmingly to unionize, inspiring a solitary Politico writer to re-launch his drive to unionize the outlet.

Gawker is one of the first major online media companies to unionize. Nearly 120 employees will join the Writers Guild of America East after 75 percent of staffers voted Wednesday to join the union.

"As Gawker’s writers have demonstrated, organizing in digital media is a real option, not an abstraction. People who do this work really can come together for their own common good," Guild Executive Director Lowell Peterson said in a statement. "The WGAE, Gawker’s writers, and the company’s management share a commitment to journalistic integrity and creative freedom. We are eager for Gawker’s editorial staff to join our creative community, and we are eager to negotiate a fair contract."

Gawker staffers announced the decision Thursday morning in a short post highlighting the 80-27 vote count and indicating it has yet to determine what exactly staffers want out of a union.

"The next steps: determining what we want to bargain for, forming a bargaining committee, and negotiating a contract. We are unionized," the post, which prompted Johnson’s comment, says.

Gawker workers have been transparent about the union vote, even creating a post May 28 allowing employees to make their cases for or against the union. Some staffers were skeptical, saying that the process felt rushed.

"This process has brought the worst out of some people, and I’ve never seen morale look like this in my 3+ years here. From my perspective, this union has been a time-costing headache that will eventually cost more money than I can afford," Rich Juzwiak said.

Jezebel’s Anna Merlan indicated she would vote yes to inspire other online media to unionize.

"I think we have a moral responsibility to help make online media a fairer and more just place for its workers. … Let’s set an example that other websites will be shamed into following," Merlan said.

Merlan is best known for calling journalists who questioned Rolling Stone’s UVA rape hoax "idiots," and labeling their reporting "a giant ball of shit." That post was later corrected because she misstated a job title.

Gawker’s unionization has reinvigorated Politico Pro labor reporter Mike Elk’s effort to organize his workplace. He sent an email to the entire staff Thursday morning commemorating the "historic victory."

"Our brothers and sisters at Gawker have scored a historic victory for journalists everywhere today. They had transparent process that allowed themselves to show why people to choose a union.  I certainly think that we have the type of innovative leadership for that type of process to unfold," Elk wrote. "Its been my intention since I got hired here to organize Politico … I would hope that as journalists that we could be as transparent as our brothers and sisters at Gawker." (sic throughout)

Elk’s plea for solidarity came a day after he emailed his coworkers about his birthday party and its importance in the fight against gentrification and "booty" liberation.

"The neighborhood been under attack by corporate lawyers buying up all the houses and never setting foot in Haydees. Now, Subway has rolled in like a blitzkrieg and its time we fought back with a nuclear bomb of Soul Power!" Elk wrote to staff in an email labeled "OFF THE RECORD."

"This party is about finally getting that hot tinder date & blowing them off because you suspect they might be a yuppie … This party is about nobody going home alone because this is my birthday party and everybody gets laid!"

Elk was laid off from union shop In These Times in 2014. He joined Politico, a company he once called a "white privilege outlet," in September after being hired by former New Republic writer and Adam Levine uncle Timothy Noah. Since then he has frequently campaigned for a union, despite having authored just six stories for the organization over his eight-month tenure. Elk's byline has not appeared on the site since January 30.

When asked about the response to his birthday and union invitations, Elk responded with a press release announcing an October conference of digital media journalists and activists. The release promises "just good old BBQing," though it lacks the opportunity to "liberate some booties" that comes with an Elk birthday bash.

"We'll win!" Elk said simply.

A Politico staffer, who spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to disturb the outlet’s solidarity, welcomed the birthday and union invitations.

"His emails are a source of amusement in the newsroom," the staffer said.

Elk previously toldWashington Free Beacon reporter who asked him for comment on a story, "I hope you fucking burn in hell for this. I really fucking do. Go fuck yourself."

Writers Guild East is an affiliate of labor giant AFL-CIO and has more than 3,700 members, according to its most recent federal labor filings. Workers pay $160 in dues each year, as well as 1.5 percent of earnings.

Update 3:08 p.m.: A previous version of this article incorrectly said that Elk emailed the staff listserv.

Published under: Politico, Unions