Did Hearst Plan a Social Media Campaign Against Its Union?

Photo: Daniel Barry/Getty Images

Since last month, when Hearst editorial workers first announced the formation of a union with the Writers Guild of America, the management of Hearst Magazines has repeated a consistent message: Don’t divide Hearst. “We deeply believe that a union will divide our company and culture, as it has in the last week, and will surely slow us down at a critical time in our evolution without guaranteeing any tangible benefits,” Troy Young, the president of Hearst Magazines, told staff in a November email.

This message, a familiar (and stale) line from corporations trying to fend off unionization attempts, has been promulgated in meetings, in emails, on a sleek new website — and, very nearly, on social media. Hearst employees recently discovered a pair of anti-union social media accounts on Twitter and Instagram, both under the handle @HearstUndivided, and both with identical bios: “At Hearst Magazines, we’re committed to the rights of every employee, including the right that everyone has to decide whether or not to join a union.” Both have since been deleted, but while they were still online both profiles linked to the anti-union website Hearst management launched on December 2. Source code on the management site lists the handles of both accounts, an indication that whoever built the site also created the social media accounts.

It’s not exactly clear when the Hearst accounts got axed by their creators, but they appear to have been the latest in a strange new frontier of union busting: anti-union Instagram accounts. An Instagram account reportedly created by NBC workers who oppose efforts to unionize with the NewsGuild, spotted and reported by the Daily Beast last week, pairs twee graphics with common anti-union messages. For example: Workers might lose their pet insurance discount if they unionize. “You mean to tell us pets could be impacted too? DM this to that coworker who is constantly showing you photos of their beloved schmoopiewoopiebear,” one uniquely cursed caption reads.

Perhaps for the best, we’ll never know what the Hearst Instagram account might have said. But “HearstUndivided” would likely have made for some inconsistent messaging for the company. On Monday afternoon, the Writers Guild confirmed to New York that Hearst has presented an unusual proposal to divide the organized workers into six new bargaining units, sometimes splitting magazine staffs into two groups. “We view these as tactics to delay and divide us. It will not work. We remain united,” the organizing committee of the Hearst union confirmed in a statement. Employees of Hearst Magazines had originally filed for recognition of a single bargaining unit encompassing 24 of the company’s brands.

In response, union supporters repurposed “HearstUndivided” as a hashtag. “The organizing committee decided that we were going to use it ourselves, because unity is something that we believe is our value, not necessarily a value that is already at the company,” said Brett Williams, an associate fitness editor at Men’s Health and a member of the union’s organizing committee. As it turned out, the “don’t divide Hearst” talking point did make it to social media — just not quite as management might have liked. Hearst did not return emailed requests for comment by press time.

Did Hearst Plan a Social Media Campaign Against Its Union?