On May 19, the UAW and NWU issued a joint statement announcing that NWU was leaving the International UAW and that “we have decided to work together to find a better institutional fit for NWU and its freelance writers, given the unique nature of [our] work…and the status of [our] members as independent contractors not covered under current labor law.” For many of you, this was the first you had heard of this decision and of the discussion leading up to it.
The Executive Board and Delegates met on Saturday, May 23, to discuss where we go from here. We are posting this report to explain the process that led to this decision, and to engage you, the membership, in steering NWU in an exciting new direction. We are totally committed to full membership participation in this process. It cannot work otherwise.
We want to reassure you that NWU is alive and well during this pandemic shutdown. Despite the difficulties, the national office is operating remotely, processing new memberships, providing grievance and contract advice, issuing press passes and O-1 visa support letters, and more. Our Financial Secretary/Treasurer reports membership and dues income at a five-year high.
A Three-Year Discussion
In 2017, the then-UAW Region 9A Director and member of the UAW International Executive Board told NWU leaders, “Maybe the UAW doesn’t have anything for NWU.” At the time, we were quite surprised to hear that, but in retrospect we believe she was being honest.
In December 2018, we were informed by the UAW legal department that a voluntary agreement we had reached with The Nation was a violation of the Sherman Act and an anti-trust violation. We were told not to renew this agreement and not to negotiate any new agreements. Despite getting three legal opinions supporting our work, the UAW legal department declined any further discussions.
In October 2019, more than 100 members of the Freelance Solidarity Project voted en masse to join NWU. Ironically, our separation was accelerated by this successful organizing and is unrelated to the legal challenges currently facing the UAW. The International UAW made the decision to opt out of the organizing wave among media workers. NWU made the commitment to pursue it.
According to the NWU Bylaws, the Delegate Assembly (a meeting of the Executive Board and Delegates elected by the membership), is the highest governing body of the union. This is where we decide bylaw changes, dues rates, and it was where we discussed and decided this issue.
The challenge for us is that membership in NWU is open to all and totally voluntary. This means that members come and go at will and are not bound by collective bargaining agreements. It is theoretically possible for members to join today, vote next week, and leave the following month. This sometimes happens with freelancers seeking grievance help or contract assistance. Still, we attempted to have discussions in the chapters. This was more difficult. Please bear in mind that all of our Chapter Chairs are volunteers who are juggling the same family and work obligations as the rest of us.
Our main concern was to make a smooth transition from the UAW into a new affiliation. One of the necessary steps in that process is having the UAW’s support and assistance in reaffiliating. We did not want to do anything that might jeopardize that. Since the joint statement, a number of unions who had been on hold are now moving into more serious discussions. We are confident that we will find an affiliation with an AFL-CIO member union.
We are organizing to win base rates and standards for freelancers at publications with union shops. We are building our Legal Action Fund to handle group non-payment grievances. We have built an international campaign to protect copyright, taking on the Internet Archive. We are assisting our members in accessing Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and we are supporting legislative efforts to strengthen our industry and secure our livelihoods.
We maintain our affiliations with the International Federation of Journalists, the International Authors Forum, and the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organizations. These affiliations have always been sustained solely by NWU. We remain partners with the National Association of Science Writers and members of the Authors Coalition of America. And we are pursuing partnerships with NABJ and the Freelancers Union.
Over the next two weeks, there will be regional online membership meetings and Q&A sessions to address questions concerning this decision and the path forward for the NWU. Please check your email for the announcement in your area (Eastern, Mid-West, Western and At-Large).
We value our long relationship with the UAW and are thankful for their continued support in this reaffiliation process. We are all facing the most challenging of times. We wish our UAW Sisters and Brothers all the best. We are still, all in this together.