by X384480

Review of the IWW Freelance Journalists Union’s campaign against Outside magazine

On May 1, 2020, the Industrial Workers of the World Freelance Journalists Union announced its latest victory: an agreement from Outside magazine to pay $150,000 in overdue invoices from freelancers. A review of this campaign shows much can be learned and it is the IWW FJU’s hope that other organizing workers can benefit from this report.

Much of the FJU’s organizing for this campaign was recorded in the project management system Trello, the communications platform Slack, and collaborative online documents in Google Docs, creating a detailed record of the campaign, rather than just collective memory and anecdotes. While this review is organized in phases, in reality, the process was dynamic. Fellow Workers on various committees took on different roles as needed during different moments in the campaign.

Phase One: Research Committee

In June of 2019, the FJU’s Research Committee (RC), with the aid of the IWW’s Survey and Research Committee (SRC), designed and released a survey, collecting information about problematic publications. Disseminated through the FJU’s listserv and social media channels, the survey was completed by 160 respondents. Among the responses, Outside magazine was identified as the outlet with the most late invoices.

The RC followed up on this insight by scraping Outside magazine’s website for the names and contact information of all the publication’s contributors from 2019. This raw data was analyzed by nine volunteers with the RC, and the end product was a contact sheet of 212 freelance Outside contributors and their email addresses. The RC also conducted corporate research on the publication, which included compiling a list of its executives and senior staffers, their titles, and contact information.

Phase Two: Outreach Committee

Beginning with the survey respondents, the Outreach Committee conducted one-on-one calls with as many Outside contributors as possible. The first of these calls followed a guide produced by the FJU for Outreach Committee volunteers, which followed the strategy advanced by the IWW’s Organizer Training 101: asking contacts about their issues, ideas for collective action, and concerns with organizing. The Outreach Committee then created a guide specific to one-on-ones with Outside contributors, which included questions about late invoices. All of the responses were recorded in a spreadsheet.

Altogether, 15 volunteers with the Outreach Committee conducted 56 one-on-ones with Outside contributors. The contact sheet produced by the website scraping was used by the Outreach Committee to send out a personalized mass email via Yet Another Mail Merge, a Google App. Of the 224 recipients, there were 64 individual respondents — almost all acknowledging Outside’s history of late payment and expressing support for the FJU’s organizing, with some explicitly agreeing to speak with an organizer. The 56 one-on-ones with the email respondents offered an incomplete but valuable picture of Outside’s late payments: 31 contributors reported having overdue invoices for a total owed of $85,212 which were anywhere from three months to four years late.

Phase Three: Legal Committee

These figures obtained by the Outreach Committee were used by the Legal Committee to draft a collective demand letter insisting that Outside pay all of its overdue invoices from all of its freelancers within 30 days. This letter was reviewed by a lawyer specializing in wage theft who offered further ideas for pursuing the overdue invoices — filing complaints with the New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection under the Freelance Isn’t Free Act, which can be confidentially filed by freelancers outside of the city against publications also outside of the city.

Phase Four: Outside Committee

Once it was determined that a campaign against Outside had both merit and potential, a motion was made to the FJU membership formalizing a committee to lead the campaign. The Outside Committee is currently co-chaired by two former contributors to the publication and, as with all other committees, primarily lives on its own channel in the FJU’s Slack workspace where updates are shared, tactics brainstormed, volunteers solicited, and more.

The Outside Committee reviewed the collective demand letter to the publication and planned for escalation. The letter was sent to executives and senior staffers at Outside on April 24; six days later, the FJU received the publication’s response, committing to paying $150,000 in overdue invoices within the week. The Outside Committee will be following up with contributors to ensure that commitment is met and, if not, continuing this campaign.

The Next Battle

With the Outside campaign settled for the moment, the FJU must decide where to direct its energies next. It would be relatively simple to begin the process detailed above once more: soliciting complaints via a survey and targeting the most egregious publications for further research, outreach, and action. But the FJU regularly learns of problems at other publications through the routine one-on-ones that the union conducts with new and prospective members (378 to date). It has already begun to pursue some of these issues on an individual basis, but one could just as likely be the source of the next collective campaign. 

The IWW FJU is a union for all freelance journalists, bloggers, and other writers in the news media. Contact us today! You have nothing to lose but your unpaid invoices!

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