After much huffing and puffing, a group of unpaid Huffington Post contributors, led by blogger and union organizer Jonathan Tasini, is upping the ante and will bring a class-action lawsuit against Arianna Huffington, HuffPo and its new parent company AOL, according to Forbes blog Mixed Media.
The move is an escalation from the “strike” initiated by some of the volunteer bloggers after AOL announced its $315 million acquisition of HuffPo in February. Though the writer’s boycott was initially dismissed by Huffington and many in the blogosphere, the movement gained a nugget of legitimacy when The Newspaper Guild, a union for workers in the media industry, endorsed the action.
“We feel it is unethical to expect trained and qualified professionals to contribute quality content for nothing,” the Guild said in a statement.
Their concerns appear to have been amplified by inevitable, massive layoffs numbering in the hundreds as AOL and HuffPo consolidate their business operations to be more efficient, possibly putting a greater squeeze on the so-called free labor.
Being the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit is not unfamiliar territory for Tasini, who blogged pro bono at HuffPo from December 2005 to just three days after HuffPo’s acquisition was announced. In the 2001 case of The New York Times v. Tasini, the Supreme Court ruled that publishers could not provide works of freelance writers to electronic databases without compensation.
Likewise, AOL is not a first-time defendant in a labor case. In 1999, two volunteer chat room moderators sued, alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The litigation ended with a $15 million settlement.
Tasini is expected to announce the lawsuit in a conference call today.