On Friday, three unions at Spotify kicked off a two hour work stoppage in solidarity with their collective struggles for fairer contracts and better workplace conditions.
The union at Gimlet, a major podcast publisher that was bought by Spotify last year for $230 million, is joining unions at The Ringer and Parcast—all properties owned by Spotify—in the work stoppage.
Gimlet unionized months after the Spotify deal, making it the first podcast company to form a union, and has spent the last year fighting for "a more equitable and inclusive workplace." To that end, the union's demands have included a contract with guaranteed raises, clear guidelines surrounding promotions, the right to profit from intellectual property they help create, a greater emphasis on diversity, and pay equity across the board.
The work stoppage was streamed on Twitch for a little over an hour on Friday, with organizing members from all three groups outlining in detail their demands.
This work stoppage is particularly interesting. The media industry has seen a large wave of unionization in recent years, but very little of the tech industry is unionized. Spotify’s purchase of unionized media companies means that media workers will also be some of the first white-collar workers to negotiate with a major tech company. Many custodial and kitchen staffs of Silicon Valley companies are already unionized. (Disclosure: VICE Media’s editorial unit is represented by the WGAE, the same union that represents the three Spotify shops.)
The Ringer, a podcast and media company founded by ESPN alum Bill Simmons, was bought by Spotify for approximately $196 million early in 2020. The Ringer union was formed in August 2019, and The New York Times reported that Simmons has spent the past year "trying to marginalize the union." Most notably, Simmons has taken up union-busting by bringing on more podcast hosts as contractors in the midst of the union’s stalled attempts to reach a new collective bargaining agreement. This strategy isn’t a new one, just one of the many tactics suggested by a burgeoning “union avoidance” industry seeking to make workplaces union-free without breaking labor laws.
In April 2019, Spotify also bought Parcast, a podcasting company focused on narrative series. Parcast unionized in September 2020, citing a desire for better workplace conditions, greater focus from Spotify on diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as pay equity, greater transparency about compensation and decision making, as well as more control over creative and IP decisions.
Of the three, only the Gimlet union was voluntarily recognized by Spotify.
Spotify was not immediately available for comment.