[Updated at 2:36pm to include statement from Gawker Media CEO Nick Denton]
The results are in: Gawker's employees have voted to organize a union. Voting was done electronically, and the margin of victory was decisive: 107 of the 115 eligible staffers took part, with 80 voting yes to joining the Writers Guild of America, East. "We are unionized," a post attributed to Gawker Media staff read.
Shortly after that post went live, Nick Denton, Gawker Media's founder and CEO, issued a statement. “While I’m thrilled to know the American labor movement is alive and well, I never thought Gawker would be the test case to prove that," the statement read. "There’s no reason that so many U.S. workplaces are contentious and I'm very pleased Gawker is leading the movement in the online media world toward collaboration and inclusion."
While there are a number of details that need to be worked out, the vote brings the employees’ organizing efforts to a swift close. Writer Hamilton Nolan made the staff plans public less than two months ago, in a post many of his colleagues said was the first they’d heard of the intention to organize. The employees resolved to have their efforts play out in public, with no attempts to hide its messy sides. "When a few dozen people know something, everyone here knows it," Nolan's post read. "We also have that whole 'radical transparency' ethos that demands that we discuss things openly."
That decision had consequences. A post published May 28 revealed dissension within the ranks, much of it concentrated in Deadspin, Gawker’s sports site. Charges of poor communication were frequent, and right up until the very end, it was clear that not everybody on the staff was on the same page.
But by airing their dirty laundry in public, Gawker's employees attracted plenty of media attention, too. Outlets ranging from Wired to the Los Angeles Times peeked in at what was going on. The AFL-CIO, America’s largest union federation, issued a statement of support and solidarity on Tuesday, and other unions, including the Culinary Union and Verizon Wireless workers, all expressed support as well.
— The Culinary Union (@Culinary226) June 3, 2015
— VZW Workers Rising (@VzwRising) June 3, 2015
â€” Randi Weingarten (@rweingarten) June 3, 2015
Over the past two decades, the digital media business has grown into a solid, secure industry, with billion-dollar businesses capable of supporting their own workforces; last year, Gawker Media, privately owned by founder Nick Denton, which attracts north of 60 million unique visitors every month, pulled in $6.7 million in profit, against $45 million of revenue.
During that period of growth, digital media also demanded a great deal of its workforce, with young, aspiring journalists often asked to crank out reams of content for little pay and fewer benefits. A survey by the scholarly journal Journalism published in 2011 found that a full 75 percent of journalists and editors under the age of 34, many of whom were working on the web, expressed plans to leave the profession because they felt overworked and underpaid.
Nearly 15 million people, about 11 percent of American wage and salary workers, were members of a union in 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That total is down from 2013, and has been declining even as the number of jobs available has finally passed the total available before the start of the financial crisis. It is also heavily concentrated in the American economy's public sector. More than a third, 36 percent, of public sector workers were union members in 2014, compared to just 6.6 percent of private sector workers.
According to the Pew Research Center, a slim majority of Americans hold a favorable opinion of unions.
[An earlier version of this story incorrectly described Gawker Media as the first digital media company to unionize. Truthout unionized in 2009 when it joined the Newspaper Guild/Communication Workers of America.]