Gimlet Media and The Ringer agreed on a three-year union employment contract with Spotify, marking a historic moment for both the tech giant and the podcasting industry. The contracts cover diversity at the company, salary bases, annual raises, and titles. It’s a big step — not just for unionization in podcasting, but also for the tech industry overall, which has been slow to take up unionization and faced union-busting tactics when they do.
The Writers Guild of America, East, which represents Gimlet and The Ringer, publicized the contract details today. (Disclosure: Vox Media’s editorial staff, which includes The Verge, is also unionized with WGAE.)
Salary minimums begin at $57,000 plus overtime for The Ringer staff and $73,000 for Gimlet Media associate producers. All union members are guaranteed at least a 2 percent annual increase, and if they’re laid off, they’ll receive at least 11 weeks of severance. Management also guarantees that at least 50 percent of candidates for open unit positions after the phone interview stage will be from underrepresented backgrounds, including BIPOC, LGBTQ+, people with disabilities, and military veterans. Contractors also must either be offered a full-time job after 10 months, or the companies must let them know 30 days in advance that they will not be brought on full-time.
Notably missing from the contract, however, is any clause about intellectual property, a sticking point that union members tweeted about and said was a difficult agreement to reach. The union members wanted to own their work and control what happened to it after its creation. This would also mean profiting from that work and sharing in the revenue.
“As it stands, that is where we are — we do not have control over intellectual property in our contract, we do not have control over derivative works in our contract,” says Dan Devine, a staff writer at The Ringer. “That’s certainly something to keep working on as we go forward and other media shops do as well.”
Of course, intellectual property was always something Spotify would be hard-pressed to cede control or revenue over. It’s a big part of its podcast strategy — building shows that could be turned into movies or TV shows in the future. Other WGAE contracts, including Vox Media’s, do account for IP. Vox’s, for example, pays union members up to $100,000 in some instances for derivative works based on their reporting.
Spotify still needs to reach one more contract agreement with its Parcast podcast network, but presumably, the Gimlet and Ringer contracts will serve as a reference point for those future conversations.
The agreements were reached last month, during a particularly dicey time for Gimlet Media. The Reply All miniseries The Test Kitchen, which delved into the allegedly toxic and racist culture at Bon Appétit, was canceled because former Gimlet employee Eric Eddings accused two hosts, PJ Vogt and Sruthi Pinnamaneni, of creating a “near-identical toxic environment at Gimlet.” Vogt stepped away from the show after the allegations surfaced, as did Pinnamaneni. The allegations focus on Gimlet prior to its Spotify acquisition and also touch on how the company treated contract workers, like stringing them along without ever offering full-time work. The union contract looks to prevent some of those issues, like contract workers being undervalued, moving forward.
This represents a landmark deal for both the podcasting and tech industry. Longtime podcasting and radio organization NPR has been unionized under SAG-AFTRA for years, as have digital media companies with podcasting efforts, but individual networks, like Gimlet, haven’t been widely represented through unions yet.
Meanwhile, tech giants, like Amazon, have resisted recognizing or supporting their workers’ unions. Its Alabama warehouse workers voted last week on the decision to unionize, and the world is still awaiting the results. This doesn’t mean tech employees aren’t trying to unionize, however. Google employees and contractors announced the Alphabet Workers Union (AWU), a group affiliated with Communications Workers of America, in January, but AWU is a solidarity union, meaning it’s not recognized by the National Labor Relations Board and can’t force Google management to negotiate a contract for its members. Employees at Medium also tried to unionize but fell one vote short. The company then offered buyouts to its entire editorial team.
Kickstarter employees unionized last year, making them the first major tech-oriented union, but they have yet to reach a deal with the company. Employees at Glitch have also unionized, with Glitch reaching a contract agreement earlier this month.