YouTube says that it won’t do business with the YouTubers Union, a year-old organization that aims to support creators on the platform and bring them together to push for creator-friendly changes. “We explained to the union in great detail what YouTube is doing in terms of transparency and support for YouTubers,” a YouTube spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “But we have also made clear that we are not going to negotiate their demands.”
Even so, YouTube has taken steps to appease the union after it joined with IG Metall, a German metalworkers union that is the largest industrial union in Europe, earlier this month. According to a Facebook post from Jörg Sprave, the founder of the YouTubers Union, Google Germany offered to meet with the union to “discuss some fundamental questions about the future of work,” which the union accepted.
YouTubers have tried and failed to unionize in the past, due to the difficulty of bringing together the very disparate group of creators on the platform. Aside from the political challenges of having a union composed of non-employee workers protected and recognized, gaining enough support from creators whose absence would be noticeable enough to make a difference to YouTube would be a challenge too, since those creators tend to have large enough followings that they don’t need the additional support. This new group, which is organized through Facebook, currently has more than 23,000 members, but it’s not clear how many of those are YouTubers or how large their followings are.
The YouTubers Union officially began on March 2nd, 2018, after Sprave posted a video titled “Creators, Users... To Arms! Join the YouTubers Union.” He was there, he said, to talk about a very serious issue: two years ago, major advertisers began to boycott YouTube. Sprave claims YouTube folded to this pressure by changing its rules around monetization. For its part, YouTube doesn’t seem to disagree: there’s content that’s deemed acceptable on the site but not acceptable for advertisers to run ads against. Some stuff just isn’t advertiser-friendly, and YouTube relies on advertisers for revenue.
The YouTubers Union’s main demands are related to making the service more democratic for smaller creators. It’s calling for monetization for smaller channels; the right to speak with a real person if a channel is to be deleted; transparent moderation decisions; ending demonetization; the end of Google Preferred, a different system for delivering ad money to creators; and the rules around content moderation to be clarified.
While YouTube’s scale might make it hard for some of these demands to be implemented, they don’t seem out of line from what creators have long been calling for, which is essentially more transparency and greater nuance regarding how decisions are made about demonetization. The rub, however, seems to be that YouTube doesn’t see itself as more than a hosting platform for creators, even though increasing numbers of those creators rely on the site for their incomes. Legally, that’s true. But unions aren’t formed because a certain kind of treatment is legal; they exist to remedy and clarify what the law doesn’t cover.
YouTube has little incentive to respond to those demands so long as most major creators aren’t behind them and ready to take action. But the company’s willingness to take a meeting shows that, at the very least, the YouTubers Union now has the company’s attention.