The Onion Union Ratifies Strike-Averting Contract

Creative workers at The Onion, The A.V. Club and Deadspin and other titles owned by G/O Media have ratified the tentative deal that averted a potential strike.

Out of 36 members in the Writers Guild of America East-represented bargaining unit, 33 voted “yes” on the labor agreement reached Jan. 31 while three rejected the deal, the WGA East announced on Tuesday. “We’re thrilled about this deal that addresses our unit’s top concerns, and we’re so grateful to every person who showed support throughout our bargaining process. Our unit’s strength and solidarity, together with our incredible labor allies, got us here,” the Onion Union said in a statement. Members of the bargaining unit work at The Onion, Onion Labs, The A.V. Club, Deadspin and The Takeout.

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The new agreement contains language governing G/O Media’s use of AI, boosts wages and alters the terms of layoffs at the company. The company’s new starting salary will rise from its present $50,000 to $60,000 a year in the first year of the contract and to $64,000 a year by the final year of the contract. According to the union, “more than 25% of the unit were making under $60,000” and will see raises as a result of the deal, which also includes 3 percent annual wage increases in each year of the contract.

The deal additionally includes some specific language on generative AI, the prior use of which prompted an outcry at the company. Under the terms of the agreement, G/O Media will unveil a policy on implementations of the technology in the next year. The union must be informed 20 days in advance of any changes to the terms of the policy and can give input that the company must consider “in good faith.” The union secured a promise that G/O Media editorial staffers must evaluate any stories, images or graphics created with the help of generative AI and that bylines must specify that any such content was created with the technology.

As the media business continues to be in upheaval, the terms of layoffs have also changed. If union staffers’ employment is terminated, they will receive 12 weeks’ minimum severance with no cap (previously, employees received five weeks’ minimum severance with a 14-week cap). Employees who are laid off after a sale of the company or their brand can receive full severance, according to the new agreement.

Management and the union struck a tentative deal on Jan. 31, hours before its previous iteration was set to expire and union members could have walked out. A federal mediator was brought in during the final stretch of negotiations to help bring the two parties together as tensions were high: Not only had union members authorized a strike, but the WGA East had filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board on Jan. 25, arguing that G/O Media had been “bargaining in bad faith.” (G/O Media denied this, with a spokesperson calling the claims in the charge “offensive.”)

Now, however, the union is touting the contract’s gains. Said WGA East vice president of online media Sarah David in a statement, “The Onion Union’s contract win is further proof that the best way workers can protect themselves and their coworkers is by unionizing their workplace.”

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