It’s official! Verso workers win union recognition

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It’s official! The workers of Verso Books have won voluntary union recognition from management of the publishing house after an arbitrator certified on Dec. 8 that a majority of employees in the unit had signed cards indicating support for joining the Washington-Baltimore Local of The NewsGuild-CWA. Management had agreed in principle to grant voluntary recognition late last month.

Ben Mabie, an editor and shop steward for the new unit, said, “For 50 years Verso Books has been a leading tribune for emancipatory politics. In taking this decision to unionize, our staff looks to join this storied history, marrying radical publishing with organizing and real solidarity with the wider labor movement. The Communications Workers of America and the NewsGuild have done particularly dedicated work in bringing some power and democracy to workers in the media and telecommunications, so we’re especially glad to throw in our lot with them.”

Through informal organizing over the years, the staff has won a number of policies aimed at increasing transparency in the workplace, including the development of a staff guide, democratic decision-making, salary banding, and more. Representation is intended to strengthen these policies by formalizing them and moving towards greater power in the workplace.

Julia Judge, a senior publicist at Verso, said, “The decision to unionize felt especially urgent now, as our staff both grows significantly in size and grows more remote. We’re excited to join our colleagues who have already begun organizing across the industry and hope that fellow book workers continue pushing for more dignified labor conditions in their own workplaces.”

Operating remotely since the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered offices in March, Verso employees recognized the necessity of maintaining close communication with one another and protecting input into their working conditions amidst widespread uncertainty. Following on the heels of several publisher workplace actions in solidarity with Black Lives Matter this summer, as well as an industry-wide reckoning with issues of race, class, and gender to ability and entry-level compensation, the staff said its decision to unionize was also an act of solidarity with workers in media, publishing, and bookselling, as well as in the broader labor movement.

The campaign is in solidarity with a concurrent unionization effort by the workers of Verso’s UK office, represented by the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) in London.

Follow the group on Twitter @versobooksguild.