About 70 editorial workers at three Ziff-Davis publications — Mashable, PC Mag and Ask Men — are staging a 24-hour strike amid complaints of “paltry wages.”
The online strike, which commenced at 9 a.m. Thursday, comes as the union representing the staffers, the News Guild of New York, attempts to negotiate its first-ever contract since being named the employees’ bargaining agent.
The union was voluntarily recognized by Ziff-Davis’s parent company, J2 Global, two years ago, but now it claims management is dragging its feet in approving wage increases.
“Wages have become a critical issue at Ziff Davis,” the union said in its statement. “Recently, some staff members appealed to company leaders, telling personal stories about what their life is like living on paltry wages. One employee described relying on the company pantry for breakfast and dinner because they could not afford food between paying rent and other necessary expenses.”
Ziff Davis said it is “very disappointed” that the union “has taken this action and decided to negotiate publicly vs. at the bargaining table.”
The company insisted it is negotiating in good faith and that the union did not provide its set of proposals including wage demands until late January. “We have and continue to make enormous progress and have reached tentative agreements on a wide range of issues.”
“Our next bargaining session is scheduled for Wednesday, April 21, and we expect to make meaningful progress then,” it said.
News Guild of New York has been using one-day walkouts with increasing frequency as a way to signal discontent with stalled contract talks. Already this year, the union has staged similar strikes at Fortune and at three Conde Nast titles, including The New Yorker, Ars Technica, and Pitchfork.
The union this week also sought to be the recognized bargaining agent for 650 tech workers at the New York Times, where it already represents 1,300 journalists and business-side employees.
The union accused Ziff Davis of “ignoring critical requests for information and circumventing the union by illegal ‘direct dealing’ with employees” in an attempt to thwart contract talks. It says it has filed unfair labor practices complaints with the National Labor Relations Board.
Of course, the union is battling with a much smaller ZIff Davis than it was in its glory days as privately-owned publishing powerhouse under William Ziff Jr. in the 1990s.
When Ziff’s three adult children opted to become venture capitalists rather than publishing moguls, Ziff sold most of the company to Ted Forstmann’s Forstmann-Little for $1.4 billion in 1996. At the time, PC Magazine was one of the biggest print publications in America with over 5,000 ad pages stuffed into its thick catalog-sized monthly magazines.
He also sold its COMDEX trade show to Japan’s Softbank for $803 million and two years later, Softbank reunited the trade shows with the publications when it purchased Ziff-Davis from Fortsmann Little for $2.1 billion.
But advertisers in tech publications were among the first to migrate to digital platforms. By the time PC Magazine published its last print edition in January 2009, over 80 percent of its revenue was digital. The entire company had gone bankrupt in 2008 and when J2 Global picked up Ziff-Davis in 2012, it became its sixth new owner since 1994.
Ziff-Davis Media today is a tiny part of J2 Global.
Thanks to it health care unit, Everyday Health, and cloud services such as Keepitsafe, J2 Global bucked the trend of most media companies during the pandemic. J2 saw its revenue jump 8.6 percent to just under $1.5 billion in 2020, while its operating income was up 20.8 percent over a year earlier to $334.6 million.