Billionaire Joe Ricketts shut down a pair of news websites he owned a week after their New York office voted to join a union. But when determining whether that move could have been unlawful, timing isn’t everything.
Earlier this month, employees at Gothamist and DNAinfo were apparently blindsided by a decision to close down their online publications, which to onlookers appeared to be in retaliation to their vote to unionize.
While the timing is suspect, and the owner had aired his anti-union opinions leading up to the union vote, management-side employment experts say the facts so far point to the shutdown being lawful. For other employers and their counsel, the Gothamist/DNAinfo situation could be a lesson in what’s lawful under the National Labor Relations Act as well as the employer-friendly, albeit limited, protections of a 52-year-old Supreme Court decision.
Ricketts, who founded TD Ameritrade, already owned online local news hub DNAinfo when he bought Gothamist, a New York-centric news site, in April. Shortly thereafter, Gothamist editors, writers and photographers agreed to join the Writers Guild of America East. The combined Gothamist and DNAinfo staff in New York formally voted to unionize in a National Labor Relations Board election held Oct. 27. On Nov. 2, the New York Times reported that Ricketts shut down the sites, effectively terminating 115 workers. The shutdown included the sites’ offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington D.C., although it was only the New York location that voted to organize.