BuzzFeed UK’s Battle to Unionise Despite ‘Hypocrite’ Bosses Turns Vicious

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By Kieran Corcoran | 4:04 am, December 14, 2016

A battle by staff at the British arm of BuzzFeed to form an official union has turned vicious, with a former prize reporter branding its managers “mendacious” and hypocritical.

As many as 80 staff at the millennial outlet signed a letter asking for recognition two weeks ago, sparking a dispute which has gone to the highest levels of the company, valued at around $1.5billion.

The row briefly quietened down – but was brought back to life Tuesday after a high-profile defector from BuzzFeed’s news team issued a stinging attack on the company’s leadership.

Michael Gillard, an award-winning former Sunday Times investigative reporter, said bosses were being hypocritical for publishing stories criticising unfair work practices while attempting to stop their own staff unionising.

BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti flew to London from the US at the end of last week to address staff face-to-face and persuade them to stop – though the gesture has yet to bear any fruit publicly.

Meanwhile, Gillard made his intervention, saying his bosses displayed “unacceptable management insecurity and hubris” when he worked for them, and deserve to be reined in.

In a letter published by Press Gazette, he attacked the company’s “phony dude culture” and warned that management would attempt to buy off individuals with a divide-and-conquer strategy.

He wrote:

So if the axe falls unfairly, your best asset is leverage; good old-fashioned dirt and any evidence of the intrinsic hypocrisy of opposing unionisation while pointing a digital finger at the work practices and double standards of others.

Keep copies of all the gushing praise and anything else that may help your cause. But also keep off the internal chat rooms.

Finally, resist attempts to divide you with individual deals and the phony dude culture of free ‘brews n’ snacks’ – it already keeps you at your desk during lunchtime.

Gillard, an  investigative reporter, worked at BuzzFeed for around six months, during which time he produced nine articles.

He left without public explanation at the beginning of this year.

It is not clear why he intervened in the dispute at his old workplace – a BuzzFeed union rep issued a statement claiming he “does not represent” their views.

Instead, union members said they want to work “constructively” with their bosses – including UK editor Janine Gibson, formerly of the Guardian, to change the company’s workplace practices.

On the surface, the process has been carried out amicably – but tensions are bubbling underneath.

The company has had a patchy record when hiring talent from established British newsrooms, reportedly for very large sums of money.

One industry source told Heat Street: “The only consistent thing about BuzzFeed UK operations is the prominence of the Pulitzer Prize on Janine Gibson’s desk.”

Heat Street has contacted BuzzFeed for comment, but has yet to receive a response.