When your bosses tell you unions are good for other industries but not the media, remind them what happened to the people freelancing for the highbrow science magazine Nautilus.
After a months-long wage dispute between the magazine and the freelancers, the National Writers Union on Thursday announced it had reached a settlement to get the writers tens of thousands of dollars in back pay.
The agreement would cover more than a dozen contract writers owed roughly $50,000 for work in the award-winning publication, the NWU said. It came after 10 of those journalists joined the union in December and made their case publicly, threatening legal action against the financially embattled magazine.
“For more than a year, we writers toiled individually on our own trying to collect from Nautilus magazine,” Jessica Seigel, a Nautilus freelancer and adjunct at New York University, said in a statement. “For me, this negotiated payment plan demonstrates how group action gets results where individuals are ignored. I hope this inspires other writers and creative workers to see the power in joining together.”
There’s been a wave of unionization across media over the past few years, with staffers at Slate, Vox Media, and The Los Angeles Times recently organizing despite varying levels of opposition from management. (Gizmodo Media Group, which includes Splinter, is a member of the Writer’s Guild of America East.) But many companies rely on freelance workers—who don’t always have in-house legal protection, let alone benefits—for a large chunk of their output.
These contract workers often get screwed, either through low wages or irregular payment, and nagging editors to fulfill their end of the bargain can become a soul-sucking part of the job. Media companies as cash-rich as Vice have had trouble paying freelancers on time. The National Writers Union is also representing 48 Ebony magazine freelancers, who are currently seeking $80,000 in back pay.
“When freelancers stand together,” NWU President Larry Goldbetter said in a statement, “we change the whole equation rather than fighting non-payment alone as individuals.”
Nautilus has yet to respond to my email seeking comment. I’ll update this post if they do.