It’s a rough life, being a liberal media mogul. Balancing your aura of caring for your staff and their rights with the cut-throat demands of your investors is testing at the best of times…imagine how hard it gets when your business hits the skids.
So pour one out for Jonah Peretti, BuzzFeed’s CEO, for whom this week isn’t looking any easier than the last.
After suffering the embarrassment of having BuzzFeed News’s major Russia scoop unraveled by Robert Mueller’s office, Peretti had the unenviable task of laying off hundreds of employees across the country. Their entire national desk was culled along with many other BuzzFeed News staffers, in cuts brutally staggered over several days.
According to Slack transcripts leaked to Splinter, Peretti sought to show empathy with the departing staffers by letting therapy dogs come to the office while the cuts took place. What a considerate and totally free gesture.
The ex-employees in New York, however, were hoping for something a bit more…helpful? While all fired workers were granted at least 10 weeks’ severance pay and benefits until April, only the Californians had their unused holiday allowance paid out (because state law there requires it). ‘What if instead of letting people bring in dogs we paid out peoples’ PTO in all states, not just California?,’ offered one BuzzFeeder in response to Peretti.
BuzzFeed, you may know, has never allowed its workers to form a union. Back in 2017, Peretti addressed a company-wide forum and was quoted as saying ‘he is not personally anti union but says he doesn’t think unionization is right for BuzzFeed.’ Enter a newly formed group called the BuzzFeed News Staff Council, formed of current and recently-ex BuzzFeed workers, who are demanding that Mr Peretti cough up:
‘BuzzFeed is refusing to pay out earned, accrued, and vested paid time off for almost all US employees who have been laid off. They will only pay out PTO to employees in California, where the law requires it. We understand that in other states where BuzzFeed employees have been laid off, state law does not require you to do so. But employers absolutely can pay out PTO — and often do. It is a choice, and for a company that has always prided itself on treating its employees well, we unequivocally believe it is the only justifiable choice.
‘This is paid time that employees accrued by choosing not to take vacation days, and instead do their work at BuzzFeed. Many of the employees who have been laid off…saved up those days (or weeks) because they were so dedicated to their work, and, in some cases, felt actively discouraged from taking time off. They have as much of a right to those days as anyone else.’
When crushing calls for a union in 2017, Peretti is reported to have said ‘[VP Communications] Shani O. Hilton and [Editor-in-chief] Ben Smith are able to advocate for BuzzFeed News employees more effectively than a third party.’ But which of them is better at it? Because the BuzzFeed News Staff Council letter is addressed to Smith, along with Peretti and head of HR Lenke Taylor…however Hilton’s is one of the 463 (and counting) signatures at the bottom.
In response to the demands, Lenke Taylor issued the following statement: ‘We would like to have a dialogue with the news staff council and staff from other departments on PTO payout. We are open to re-evaluating this decision but we think it is important for everyone to understand the tradeoffs in changing the PTO practice.’ Tradeoffs? Cockburn can’t help but think the only tradeoffs in this particular decision for the BuzzFeed bigwigs are ‘it costs me money’ and ‘I don’t want to’.
For his part, Peretti took to Twitter today to explain, ‘I’ve already agreed to meet with the staff council to discuss and indicated I’m willing to re-evaluate. I get that people might want a different policy but for NYC-based companies this is very common and we looked at the total severance consideration and it was fair.’
As another form of protest, one unruly contributor knocked up a ‘Do You Still Work At BuzzFeed?’ quiz…on BuzzFeed’s community platform. The community managers apparently did not survive the cull, so it may stay up for a while. Cockburn got ‘You’re being laid off: As you may know, the company is going through some organizational changes and your position no longer exists. Thank you for your contributions to the company. You may re-apply to the position of “freelancer” at your earliest convenience.’
You’d have thought they’d have got the knack of this ‘firing people’ thing by now…
Update: After bravely taking to the barricades on Twitter all weekend, the BuzzFeed News Staff Council were triumphant in their crusade against Jonah Peretti: