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Posted by H.G. Watson on December 15, 2015

By H.G. Watson, Associate Editor

Staff at Vice Canada may follow the lead of their American counterparts and form a union.

Organizers are trying to get enough staff to their union cards before the Christmas holidays so that they can trigger a certification vote. “We’ve been working on it for the last couple of months,” said Tannara Yelland, a former Vice employee and temporary organizer with the Canadian Media Guild.

Vice was founded in Montreal in 1994. Initially a very small, independent media company that produced Vice magazine, it has expanded into a multinational company currently valued at US$4 billion. In Canada, the company recently entered into a partnership with Rogers Communications to start Viceland, a 24-hour cable channel. As a result, it hired 100 new staff to produce content for the channel.

In August 2015, editorial staff at Vice in the United States unionized. Yelland said that provided the model for staff elsewhere. “We all enjoy working at Vice—it’s a great place,” she said. “But there’s always some things that could be improved.” The initial group that came together believed that having a collective agreement could provide both a safety net for employees and raise standards in the Toronto office.

Among the staff members key concerns listed on the CMG site are fighting for higher wages and starting salaries, benefits for contract workers and better benefits for all staff, protection for contract workers, protection against terminations without cause, and the introduction of clear journalistic standards.

Not a lot of specific concerns about journalistic standards have been raised, said Yelland.

“There just isn’t anything clearly laid out,” she said. “I think a lot of us just want something in place before anything problematic happens.” There is also a desire for clearer communication between management and employees.

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Yelland, who worked as a staff writer and web editor for about a year, said that her salary was about $30,000.

A source at Vice Canada who spoke to J-Source on the condition of anonymity said that they had informally noticed some glaring discrepancies between pay scales for entry level staff and staff in different departments of the company.

Ryan Archibald, Vice Canada’s managing director, declined to comment for this story.

In an email obtained by J-Source, Archibald outlined the benefits the company offers full-time permanent staff, including upgrades to their dental and medical plans.

“You each have the right to choose whether you wish to support a union or not. Before you decide what is right for you, we urge you to do your homework, and thoroughly understand what the union is offering. It is our view that we have a great workplace now, and that we offer very competitive benefits, such that you don't really need a union to represent you,” he wrote in the email.

According to the anonymous Vice source, a similar email was sent to American Vice editorial staff before they joined the Writer’s Guild of America, East.

Yelland says that the young staff seem fairly enthusiastic about the potential of unionizing, a sentiment echoed by those who spoke anonymously with J-Source. The biggest hurdle has been explaining to them the step-by-step process of unionizing.

She estimates there are about 150 staff members working for Vice Canada, though Karen Wirsig, a staff representative at CMG, was not sure how many of those were contract employees compared to full-time staff.

“It’s very exciting,” said Wirsig. “It’s great to see people coming together wanting to connect with each other, improve their workplace and talk about what’s important to them.”

H.G. Watson has written for Motherboard, Vice’s science and technology website. She can be reached at hgwatson@j-source.ca or on Twitter.

J-Source and ProjetJ are publications of the Canadian Journalism Project, a venture among post-secondary journalism schools and programs across Canada, led by Ryerson University, Université Laval and Carleton University and supported by a group of donors.