Union Negotiates Better Severance for DNAInfo/Gothamist Workers

NEW YORK – The websites Gothamist and DNAInfo shut down earlier this month with no warning and put 110 employees out of work in New York and Chicago.

Owner Joe Ricketts, founder of TDAmeritrade, closed the site on November 2 after workers voted to form a union the week before.

Now The DNAinfo/Gothamist bargaining committee, working with the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE), has negotiated an agreement that includes substantial gains beyond the initial severance offer made by management.

Terms of the agreement include:

  • Each employee will receive three months of full pay and benefits, even if they obtain other employment.
  • At the end of that period, each employee will receive four weeks’ severance pay.
  • Each employee has the right to use their own work, including work that was already published by DNAinfo or Gothamist, and to create new works derived from what they did for the publication.
  • No employee will be required to sign a non-disparagement provision.
  • The company has confirmed in writing that it will not remain in business or create any neighborhood news media site for at least two years; any asset sale must be to a third party, conducted at arm’s length.

Taken together, these provisions address several concerns arising out of the sudden closing of DNAinfo and Gothamist:  They provide union-represented employees with four months of pay even if they are able to find other work sooner; this minimizes the economic impact of the shutdown.  They provide union-represented employees with the ability to continue to earn a living as journalists, including reusing work they did while at DNAinfo and Gothamist; they can do this work on their current computers and they don’t have to worry about an allegation that something they report or say might be considered negative by management or by the owner of the company.

“The reporters at DNAinfo and Gothamist stayed strong despite the vocal hostility of management (especially owner Joe Ricketts), and their solidarity proves the value of collective bargaining,” said Lowell Peterson, Executive Director of the Writers Guild of America, East.  “They identified the real needs of the entire unit and achieved the best shutdown agreement possible under the circumstances.  We have learned the importance of building a collective voice in digital media.  And we have learned how important it is not to permit ideologically-driven billionaires to control our media.”

The DNAinfo/Gothamist bargaining committee said, “The agreement we hammered out provides a significant amount of financial stability for our workers and their families, allows us to build on the stories we wrote for DNAinfo and Gothamist, and ensures that we will continue to speak truth to power without fear of reprisal from a non-disparagement clause. We couldn’t have done all this without the help of the Writers Guild of America, East, and we hope that our experience underscores the importance for writers and journalists everywhere to unite and stand up for their rights.”

In addition to Gothamist and DNAinfo, the Writers Guild of America, East represents digital news staffs at VICE, HuffPost, The Intercept, Gizmodo Media Group (Splinter, Gizmodo, Jezebel, Deadspin, The Root, Lifehacker, Kotaku, io9, Jalopnik, Earther), ThinkProgress, MTV News, Thrillist and Salon.