Since 2020, the Industrial Workers of the World Freelance Journalists Union has been issuing press passes to reporters to aid them in the course of their work, particularly in response to police interference. Organized as a branch of the IWW since 2019, the IWW FJU has issued more than 200 press passes to journalists to date.
The IWW FJU began issuing press passes widely during the uprisings following the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020. Police departments across the United States reacted to the uprisings with increased violence against journalists documenting the events, many of whom are freelancers and thus unable to obtain press passes usually reserved for staffers.
“In some areas, like Los Angeles, you have to get approval for a press pass from the Los Angeles Police Department in order to be recognized by the police as a journalist,” explains Morgan Parker, cochair of the IWW FJU Press Pass Committee. “It’s a clear violation of the freedom of the press, but nobody was challenging it.”
When the IWW FJU sent out an offer of press passes to members via social media, the union received several hundred responses. IWW FJU members in good standing can request a press pass and a union-branded lanyard at no cost. The passes are produced in-house by the IWW FJU Press Pass Committee using a specialized card printer, and the lanyards are custom ordered from a union shop.
IWW FJU press passes have proved valuable to journalists in the field, according to Parker. The vast majority of recipients have reported having no trouble when using them. In at least one case, however, an IWW FJU member with a press pass was nevertheless attacked by police and had their pass confiscated. Still, for most pass-holders, the credential and union backing offer the protection they need to do their work.
“The nature of a pass is that you have the collective backing of an organization,” says Parker. “You are not just alone as a solitary worker.”