Meredith braces for union battle at EW, Martha Stewart, Shape, People TV

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Publishing giant Meredith is bracing for a union battle.

The News Guild of New York said more than 90 percent of the editorial staff at Entertainment Weekly, Martha Stewart Living, Shape and People TV have opted to be represented by the union, but Meredith is digging in and said it will not voluntarily recognize the union as the bargaining agent for the roughly 100 employees.

Meredith, which is based in Des Moines, Iowa, had inherited five unionized magazines in its $2.8 billion takeover of Time Inc. in January 2018. It subsequently sold off Time, Fortune, Sports Illustrated and Money, leaving People’s print magazine as its only unionized publication.

At People, the union only represented lower run editorial employees on the weekly magazine. The News Guild is pushing to have all four publications represented by a single bargaining unit.

Meredith quickly fired back Thursday afternoon.

“While we recognize the federal right of employees to join a union, we believe it is imperative that each employee exercise their federal right of a secret ballot election and, for this reason, it is our policy to not voluntarily recognice a union, as to do so would bypass our employees democratic right to vote,” the company said in a statement.

“The media climate we’re operating in continues to rapidly evolve and change dramatically, and calls for a more creative, nimble and flexible operating culture,” the company said. “We believe in transparent, ongoing dialogue without a third party intervening.”

The union drive is likely to be among the first hurdles for Catherine Levene, the newly appointed president of the National Media group that includes the magazines.

Meredith has been buffeted by the same headwinds that have rocked in the rest of the media world during COVID-19. In September, it laid off about 50 people in the magazine division as part of an overall cut of 180 people across the entire company, which also includes 15 local TV stations and the corporate HQ. Earlier in the pandemic, it had instituted pay cuts for about 60 percent of its employees ranging from 15 to 40 percent, but the pay cuts were rescinded in September.

At EW, editor in chief JD Heyman was suddenly let go, “effective immediately” on Tuesday, according to an announcement from the company. A subsequent report in The Wrap said some staffers had complained that Heyman had made a number of racially insensitive remarks which were relayed to HR.

But another source said that Heyman had been clashing with People editor in chief Dan Wakeford. “I find it’s as simple as high-school drama,” said the source. “Dan and JD hate each other — and Dan won.”

Heyman could not be reached for comment.

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