— Cat (@emdashcat) June 14, 2017
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As the number of freelance writers owed by EBONY Media continues to rise, the National Writers Union is demanding a firmer commitment from the publication to pay a number of uncompensated freelancers.
The National Writers Union is representing 23 writers that are collectively owed $50,000 in unpaid invoices ranging from $40 to $20,000. However, the union estimates that there may be as many as 50 freelancers owed more than $200,000.
On June 3, EBONY Media released a statement to NBC BLK stating their full commitment to paying writers and other freelancers and indicated that the issue would be resolved in 30 days.
Representatives from the union say that isn’t good enough.
“Some of the invoices we’ve seen are over a year old,” NWU President Larry Goldbetter said. “We are pleased EBONY Media has been responsive to the grievance, but we are now at a point where we need a payment schedule in writing. For a freelancer to have to struggle to pay rent because Ebony owes is ridiculous.”
Goldbetter also points to anonymous sources that have come forward to say the media organization is far from cash-strapped.
“Interesting things happen when people organize and come together. People have contacted me to say that during the time EBONY Media owed these writers for their work, the company spent six figures on Super Bowl parties in Houston, the Ebony 100 event in Los Angeles and a pitch competition at SXSW. I was also told that money that was initially ear marked for freelancers was later allocated to other things. The money is clearly there. The commitment to paying freelancers is not.”
The union got involved on behalf of the freelancers after #EbonyOwes began trending on Twitter. Writer Jagger Blaec broke the story in an article that appeared on The Establishment’s website in April.
EBONY Media was acquired by Texas-based investment firm, CVG in 2016. In a recent statement, those owners attributed the lack of compensation to the publication’s previous owners, something Goldbetter disputes.
“CVG acquired Ebony almost a year ago, and freelancers have gone uncompensated as recently as the latest issue. That’s not a Johnson Publishing issue, that’s a CVG issue.
“Now that everything is out in the open, we hope all freelancers are paid what they’re owed before this arbitrary 30-day time period EBONY Media set.”
“Ebony and Jet magazine have long been iconic African American publications that empower the community and show us diversity in a world where African American viewpoints are often under-represented. Which why it’s so disturbing that its new owners, Clear View Group (CVG) are willing to tarnish the brand by refusing to pay its freelancers, many who are workers of color,” said Richard Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO, which the National Writers Union belongs to. “CVG is not unique in abusing enthusiasm for the new economy and using it as a tool to deny working people their basic freedoms. The freedom to provide for our families via a steady income and the right to receive fair return on hard work cannot be denied. CVG can fix this by working with the National Writers Union to pay writers what they owe and restore confidence in this signature publication.”
The National Writers Union was founded by writers in 1981 as, in the words of Toni Morrison, “an accessible organization that is truly representative of the diverse interests of all writers.” It is affiliated with the United Auto Workers as Local 1981. In 2013 the NWU represented unpaid writers at Heart and Soul magazine in a similar grievance and won $126,000 in unpaid fees. More information about the National Writers Union can be found at www.nwu.org.