Policy: Labor

Media Matters digs in to stop union from organizing its workers

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Liberal watchdog group Media Matters for America is actively fighting a bid to unionize its staff, according to Service Employees International Union Local 500.

Previously, the two groups had both publicly downplayed the dispute, stating they hoped the matter could be resolved amicably.

That apparently came to an abrupt end late last week. Local 500 now says talks have stalled and MMFA is lawyering up instead.

"We are disappointed Media Matters is taking this route," Christopher Honey, spokesman for the union, told the Washington Examiner.

Asked if Media Matters was "actively opposing" unionization, communications director Jess Levin said "no" in an email Saturday but declined to elaborate on how it was responding to Local 500's bid.

Local 500 approached MMFA, a nonprofit group, early in April seeking to represent its workers through a Card Check election. According to Honey, the union has the backing of 36 of its 51 workers.

MMFA rejected their Card Check bid, so the union petitioned the National Labor Relations Board On April 10 to force the nonprofit to hold a workplace election. Meanwhile, MMFA hired Perkins Coie, a law firm that specializes in specializes in representing management in union disputes.

"For an organization that says they are not opposing employees' efforts to unionize, it's a little suspicious that they hired such a fancy legal team," Honey said. MMFA does not appear to be open to any solution that doesn't involve dragging in the NLRB, he added.

Initially both sides were wary of the publicity an open fight would bring. MMFA told the Examiner and last week, "We respect the rights of our employees and will work through this process" but did not further elaborate on the situation.

Local 500 posted a statement on its website April 17:

Employees at Media Matters for America recently filed to join SEIU Local 500. Local 500 also represents workers at two other Washington DC nonprofits -- Public Citizen and the DC offices of Oxfam America.

"Media Matters and SEIU are partners in many progressive causes," said David Rodich, executive director of SEIU Local 500, "and they have long supported unions and working people."

"Now that employees at Media Matters have said they want to join SEIU Local 500, I don't actually expect the organization to oppose unionization," he added. "I think this is something that Media Matters will ultimately support as a positive statement about the organization's principles. We're looking forward to sitting down at the bargaining table with them and negotiating a contract that respects the interests of the workers and the mission of Media Matters."

The statement has since been scrubbed from Local 500's website. The Examiner was able to obtain a screenshot of a cached Google version. Honey said the union took the statement down when it became apparent that Media Matters' management was not cooperating after all.

Media Matters has posted numerous articles supporting workers' rights and labor organizing. It has argued that "economists point to declining union participation as one cause of the growing economic rift in America" and claimed it was a fact that "unions increase productivity [and] do not reduce business competitiveness."

According to its IRS filings, Media Matters, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit group, had a budget of $9.6 million in 2012, the most recent year for which data was available. Its revenue was almost entirely from contributions and grants.

Among its donors was SEIU, which gave $150,000 to the watchdog group between 2009 and 2012, accounting for about one-fifth of all money it received from unions, according to the Washington Free Beacon.

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Sean Higgins

Senior Writer
The Washington Examiner