The Writers Guild of America, East is calling on news outlets to prioritize safety and involve the union in policy discussions as workers begin to return to the newsroom.
The WGAE represents newsroom employees at several digital and broadcast media outlets, including Slate, the Ringer, Vox Media and Vice. The vast majority of its members have been working from home since the pandemic began, but that is about to change.
As part of the return to the office, the union is asking that workers be allowed to refuse work that is unsafe or unhealthy. The union also wants employers to reimburse costs related to working from home, including things like Internet and cell phone bills and office supplies.
“The foundational problem is a lot of these things are not codified at many workplaces,” said Sara David, an employee at Vice who serves on the union’s industrywide committee. “People are afraid to ask for what they need.”
The guild conducted a survey of 234 members across many newsrooms. The results show that 88% of members are currently required to work fully from home, and 31% said they were incurring expenses to accommodate that. According to the survey, 19% had asked for expense reimbursement and a majority of those requests were at least partially denied.
The WGA is asking companies to adopt a “Bill of Rights” for affected employees. That would include adopting clear policies on expense reimbursement for home-office costs, clear paid family leave and paid sick leave policies, and access to mental health services.
The guild is also talking with employers about the need for consultation on return-to-work policies. The guild is advocating for employees to have enough time to make the transition back to the office.
“We are basically just asking management to work with each union on their policies for that,” David said. “The process of closing offices was really chaotic for a lot of offices, and we want to make sure it’s not the same going back.”