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Insider journalists stage open-ended strike

More than 250 unionized employees at Insider walked off the job Friday after they failed to reach an agreement on a first contract with the company. 

Until further notice, unionized reporters, editors, video producers and copy editors will stop producing news for Insider, a global news publication. Only reporting staff who are part of the union and based in the United States are participating in the strike. 

The two sides have been bargaining for more than two years, and the union alleges that the company broke federal labor law by unilaterally changing workers’ health insurance plans. As a result, some employees have had to pay more for less coverage. The union is also asking for guaranteed annual wage increases and a reduction in annual health care costs. 

“They illegally changed our health care, and so we’re trying to work to get language in the contract to make sure that we wouldn’t have to deal with this sort of situation ever again,” union steward and Insider entertainment reporter Libby Torres said.

Labor law requires that companies bargain with unionized employees over any changes made to their working conditions. In November, Insider Union, which is part of the NewsGuild of New York, filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board over the health insurance changes. The board found merit to the charge and issued a complaint against Insider last month.

Insider has denied breaking labor law. In a note sent to staff Wednesday, chief people officer Jessica Liebman said that the company decided to change insurance carriers after its previous provider tried to increase costs. 

Last year, our insurance carrier United Healthcare tried to increase our costs by 34%. We were able to negotiate that down to a 17% increase, which was still more than we had budget for. As a result, we decided to move to Cigna. This led to premium increases for some plans of only about 7%, while some plans had less than that or no increases at all,” Liebman wrote. “We believe that we acted in accordance with the law and did what was best for all of our employees, including our union members.”

The union is prepared to strike for as long as it takes for the company to agree to its demands, Torres said. Even as employees stopped working Friday, members of the bargaining committee were meeting with company representatives to continue negotiations. 

As part of the strike, the union is asking its audience not to read any Insider articles or watch any Insider videos. The union has also set up a strike hardship fund to support participating workers as they will not be paid during the strike. 

Insider spokesperson Mario Ruiz estimated that roughly half of the company’s global editorial team is expected to strike. 

“The strike is unfortunate, but we respect our team’s right to do it,” Ruiz wrote in an emailed statement. “We’ve made an excellent offer, and we hope they accept it soon. In the meantime, we have a sizable global team that continues to serve our global audience.”

Though work stoppages have become an increasingly common tactic among newsroom unions, the strike at Insider stands out as it is open-ended with no set end date. Such actions are relatively rare. Journalists at Gizmodo Media Group, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram also started open-ended strikes last year, but prior to that, the industry had not seen an indefinite strike since 2000.

The Insider strike comes just over a month after the union held a one-day walkout in protest of planned layoffs. The company announced in April it would lay off 10% of its staff, including 60 of the union’s nearly 300 members. In a memo to staff, Insider president Barbara Peng wrote that layoffs were needed to keep the company “healthy and competitive” at a time of economic hardship.

In response, the union walked off the job for a day. Through subsequent bargaining that wrapped up Thursday, the two parties reduced the number of layoffs among union members to roughly 40 people and secured better severance packages for the rest, Torres said.

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