I’ve been at VICE Canada for a minute now, and I’ve watched this company grow in leaps and bounds. The quality and relevance of our editorial output is unparallelled in Canada, and on top of that we just launched a TV channel. Any way you cut it, it’s cool as hell to work here.
And I believe that we need a union.
There’s a few things that we don’t talk about in the office. One of them is money. So here’s my deal: I make less than $40,000 annually, even with a raise after my first year of work. I also live in one of the most expensive cities in Canada. It’s tough. With a 10 percent raise after my second year at VICE, I would still make less than a starting employee in the unionized US office, which guarantees every editorial employee a starting salary of $45,000.
I know that I am not alone in this. I also know that salaries are not the issue for everybody. Others would like more vacation time, or better benefits. Some would simply like some protection in the case of disciplinary action by management. Employees talk about these things when nobody in charge is listening.
The reality is that we’re not a startup, not anymore. We’re a company that is valued in the billions of dollars and attracts multi-million dollar investments. We’re not all in our twenties anymore, either. People are trying to raise families here. And the fact of the matter is, we also make this company what it is. Our work, our stories, our time, ourselves—that’s what makes VICE a powerhouse.
There’s a contradiction here. On the one hand, VICE encourages us to follow our intuition. We have the freedom to pursue the stories we want, and tell them in the way that we want. Even if our friends at other media publications in Toronto can say that they make more money, or have better benefits, we have something that they don’t: freedom. Individual freedom. Institutional freedom. We go where others don’t even think to.
But despite VICE trading on individual employees’ talents, skills, and finely-tuned spidey senses, we don’t often see a return in a material sense. It’s not crass or uncouth to desire this. It’s just living in the real world.
So, what would a union do to remedy this? Well, look at what’s happened in other digital media workplaces that have arrived at a collective agreement. The VICE US office is paying starting employees $45,000 a year with a guarantee of a 29 percent increase over three years. Over at Gawker it’s even better: $50,000 starting salary. And that’s all in US dollars, buds.
A union is just a group of employees working together. That’s it. It’s a tool for people to represent their interests in an actionable way. Unfortunately, the priorities of management (to do good things for the company) and employees (to make rent) don’t always align. With a union, these interests can come together around a bargaining table for a respectful and productive discussion on how to make working here better, and with a real way to make both of those things happen.
I love working at VICE. I don’t just feel productive and satisfied, I feel personally edified. I am able to follow my heart’s desires and goddamnit, that is precious in this world. So, why do I want a union?
Because I want to be able to keep doing that for a very long time.