Last April, unpaid freelancers for Ebony magazine started the Twitter hashtag #Ebonyowes. NWU joined in the online discussion and slowly started developing a campaign to get the writers compensated. As of today, we have about 40 new members at Ebony, who are owed more than $70,000, and still more writers are joining almost daily. Under pressure from the union, CVG promised to have everyone paid in full by the end of June. They only came up with $18,000, which is not even close to what is owed.
CVG, which bought Ebony from Johnson Publishing in Chicago a year ago, owes freelancers as much as $200,000. In the interim, they have leveraged the iconic brand to host lavish Super Bowl and Hollywood parties, while continuing to stiff their freelancers, including those who worked on the Special President Obama Issue last January. With the backing of the UAW International union, we are taking CVG and the Ebony Media Organization (EMO) to court.
Because of the number of writers involved and the iconic Ebony name, this campaign has gained a lot of attention and media coverage. We’ve reached well over a million people on Twitter and social media, mostly writers, and we’ve received coverage in Crain’s Business, the Chicago Tribune, the NY Daily News, NPR’s All Things Considered and Roland Martin.
We’ve had the support of the national AFL-CIO and the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), who gave Ebony their “Thumbs Down” award (along with FOX News). NABJ has also generously offered us a space to host a Freelancers Meet & Greet at their convention (August 9-13) in New Orleans, where we can discuss the campaign and the broader issue of non-payment to freelancers.
This campaign has opened up tremendous opportunities as an organizing effort among freelancers, especially younger black writers. It has also spurred more interest from writers at other publications. We now have four new members who want a group grievance at another publication, and at least two more requests for non-payment grievances.
Of course, Ebony is not the only offender. Non-payment is an epidemic for freelance writers. That is why we joined the campaign to establish the Freelance Isn’t Free law in NYC last year. Many publishers feel they can treat individual freelancers any way they want. What’s different here is that Ebony freelancers are standing together, as a union, and that can make all the difference.