September 3, 2015 Last Updated 10:33 am

Al Jazeera America Digital staff petition for union representation

Digital newsroom staff seeks to be represented by The NewsGuild of New York; the next step is the media company’s – it can voluntarily agree, or force a vote supervised by the National Labor Relations Board

The latest digital newsroom to vote to unionize is that of Al Jazeera America which today set out its mission in a statement released this morning. Formerly, the staff has petitioned for representation with The NewsGuild of New York, CWA Local 31003.

“Across our industry, journalists at some of the web’s premier media establishments are choosing union representation. And now, the employees of Al Jazeera America Digital are joining them,” the statement said.

AJA-screenUnlike similar union votes, this one is not surprising. While staffs at digital media outlets such as Gawker and Vice have decided to go with unions, none have had such public complaints as that of Al Jazeera America.

In May, The New York Times reported on the problem with Ehab Al Shihabi, then the chief executive of Al Jazeera America.

“I didn’t want to be there anymore because I didn’t like the culture of fear,” said the network’s former senior vice president for news gathering, Marcy McGinnis. “People are afraid to lose their jobs if they cross Ehab.”

Shortly after the story broke Al Shihab was gone, but clearly there remained issues.

“We’re excited,” said Ned Resnikoff, Digital Reporter, in the statement released by the Guild. “We believe in Al Jazeera’s goal of delivering captivating, groundbreaking news, and the newsroom is really coming together to help the company further its journalistic mission. We welcome a constructive, amicable discussion with management to jointly address our concerns.”

“By organizing, we’ve had the chance to more fully realize the value and excellence of our newsroom — something we’re all committed to improving,” said Caroline Preston, Digital Editor.

The next step is to see if AJA recognizes the union effort. If not, then the next step would be a forced, federally-supervised election at the National Labor Relations Board.

Here is the statement from Al Jazeera America Digital staff:

All of us at Al Jazeera America believe in a shared mission: delivering quality, cutting-edge journalism; going deeper and amplifying the voice of the voiceless. We are proud to have helped build a vibrant and essential piece of one of the most respected media networks in the world.

Across our industry, journalists at some of the web’s premier media establishments are choosing union representation. And now, the employees of Al Jazeera America Digital are joining them.

We want to work with Al Jazeera management in a spirit of honesty, integrity and transparency — both to produce the news and to improve the workplace in which we produce it.

We who are tasked with communicating the voice of the voiceless must retain a voice ourselves. The smart, creative, award-winning people who commit to this mission need to work in an environment that respects their efforts. We want our newsroom to exemplify the best practices of a modern, humane workplace that values diversity, equality and fairness.

As we enter our third year in the public eye, a troubling lack of transparency, inconsistent management and lack of clear redress have persisted at AJAM Digital. Discrepancies in salaries, responsibilities and the way job performance is evaluated undermine our work and the harmony of our workplace.

We believe Al Jazeera America can do better. We call upon Al Jazeera’s leaders to uphold its mission, not just to its audience but also to its employees.

By addressing institutional issues collectively, we can better resolve problems when they arise, do our jobs with dignity and achieve a measure of security that fosters world-class journalism.

That is why we are forming a union with the News Guild of New York, part of the Communications Workers of America. It has a long history of representing journalists, including digital journalists at The New York Times, Reuters, The Daily Beast and elsewhere.

We ask that Al Jazeera management recognize our choice and enter into a constructive, amicable collective bargaining process with us.

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