But that effort could soon come to an end.
“Having that kind of name with us and knowing that they want to support us and knowing that they’re willing to do anything to make sure that we get the wins that we so rightfully deserve, it’s both an honor and such a privilege,” said Fuentes, who is on the bargaining committee for Hearst Magazines Media Union. “Hearing that some people are not so happy about us being involved… is a little bit hurtful because we just want to help each other.”
A ‘bright spot’ going dark
“It’s been a real bright spot in the entire labor movement,” said Nolan, who is now a labor reporter for the magazine In These Times and on the WGAE council.
The WGAE, which was founded in 1954, had about 4,000 members during the 2007-2008 strike. But in recent years, that number has grown to more than 6,000 largely due to the addition of more than a thousand digital media workers.
Christopher Kyle, a former longtime council member who is on the Inclusion & Experience ticket and running unopposed for secretary-treasurer, told CNN Business that for every $1 of dues digital members pay the guild spends $3 to organize and service them. Some union members, including those on the Solidarity Slate, would argue that it’s a worthwhile investment.
“I think this is just a cynical shortsighted way to look at how to run a union, to measure the dollars on the ledger sheet to see whether or not what we’re doing is succeeding or failing,” said David Hill, vice president of the National Writers Union and a former organizer in the WGAE and other unions.
“We don’t succeed or fail if we bring in more revenue,” Hill continued. “We succeed or fail in the labor movement if we’re actually bringing bad bosses to account, if we’re actually raising standards, the working and living standards of professional media workers.”
Michael Winship, a council member who is on the Inclusion & Experience ticket and running unopposed for president, served as WGAE president from 2007 to 2017 and at the time approved of Gawker joining the guild. He then oversaw the digital union boom at the WGAE.
“I blamed myself among others for that,” Winship told CNN Business. “We thought that it was a good idea to bump up our membership a bit, but it just became this avalanche of people that was so overwhelming.”
Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, a council member who is on the Inclusion & Experience ticket and running unopposed for vice president, said the guild wants to be more transparent and communicative with members than they were during the rise of digital organizing.
“None of this is the fault of our digital media members. They cannot be blamed for thinking that organizing would continue at the breakneck pace,” Cullen said. “That is the fault of the guild.”
The ‘strongest model’ for organized labor
The July email informing WGAE members of the organizing pause and the campaigning for the election has been a wake-up call for rank and file members who were unaware of the turmoil.
“I was startled,” said Alison Herman, a staff writer at sports and culture site The Ringer. “My experience working with staff members of the WGA, East and even meeting with certain members of the council has been nothing but full-fledged support and enthusiasm.”
Simon, who has been a member of WGAE since 1985 and is the creator of prestige hit show “The Wire,” told CNN Business that he believes the interests of the current members are at odds.
Unions are “strongest when they’re targeted toward the industry that they’re trying to influence,” Simon said. “Amalgamated unions are in many ways, while they’re capable of self-sustenance and providing basic services to members, they’re not the strongest model for what organized labor and collective bargaining can accomplish.”
One concern Simon has is that council members from digital shops would vote against a strike in the future.
Sara David, an astrology editor at Vice Media who is running for council with the Solidarity Slate, told CNN Business that she plans to stand by her peers.
“I don’t understand all of the rhetoric about journalists coming to steal their power and mess up their priorities when we literally just want to stand alongside them,” David said. “I would link arms with a janitor, a nurse, a teacher if it made my bargaining stronger.”
Members of the Inclusion & Experience ticket, however, are considering a future in which the digital media workers are spun into their own union that is independent or functions as a local division of WGAE. Simon suggested some shops may be better suited in the NewsGuild, another labor union that he was a part of when he worked as a journalist at The Baltimore Sun. The council has created a subcommittee to conduct an assessment of members and propose options.
Josh Gondelman, a comedian and television writer who is running for council with the Solidarity Slate, argued that growing WGAE’s membership inclusive of digital media workers is “good for the union’s overall power and bottom line in the long run.”
“It seems short-sighted for us to draw such boundaries based on the ways news and entertainment are delivered,” Gondelman wrote in an email to CNN Business. “That’s what the studios are doing to avoid paying fair rates to writers on streaming entertainment in many cases.”
Nolan, the former Gawker writer who is also with the Solidarity Slate, stressed that the result of the election should not further divide the union.
“We can’t come out of this election acting like we’re enemies of each other,” Nolan said. “We need to work together and that makes us stronger.”