Cenk Uygur is the co-founder of The Young Turks (TYT), a progressive media company that disseminates its programs on YouTube. Earlier this month, a group of TYT employees announced plans to form a union. Given the company’s progressive sensibilities you might imagine that this plan was greeted warmly by Cenk Uygur. But it turns out his reaction was just the opposite. He pleaded with employees not to unionize suggesting the company would not have grown as quickly if it had been unionized:
In the staff meeting, the network’s co-founder and influential host, Cenk Uygur, urged employees not to do so, arguing that a union does not belong at a small, independent outlet like TYT, according to two workers who were present. He said if there had been a union at the network it would not have grown the way it has.
His talk ― at times emotional, the staffers said, with Uygur throwing his papers to the ground at one point, and chastising an employee ― seemed to contradict the progressive, worker-first ethos that TYT broadcasts to its millions of lefty followers.
In an interview with HuffPost, Uygur doubled down saying his company could go under if it were unionized:
In an interview with HuffPost, Uygur said he is a strong supporter of unions, especially at large corporations that aren’t sharing profits with their workers. But he said he worries a unionized workforce would bring new legal and bureaucratic costs that TYT can’t sustain…
“The reality is we’re in a precarious position,” Uygur said. “We’re in a digital media landscape where almost no one makes money or is sustainable.”
Well, he’s not wrong about a union creating additional legal, bureaucratic, and financial costs. Of course other companies and organizations, even large ones, face similar costs.
There’s a bit more to this story. Uygur is currently running for congress, hoping to fill the seat vacated by Rep. Katie Hill after her relationship with a staffer became public. Uyger’s opponent is Christy Smith. Smith has been endorsed by several California unions including the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), which is the same union trying to unionize The Young Turks. Last week, Smith highlighted Uygur’s resistance to unionizing his own shop saying: “Also @cenkuygur – how’s that whole ‘progressive’ thing working out for you?”
#CA25 is home to thousands of hard working @IATSE members. As a former union leader I’m proud to stand with them today and everyday! Also @cenkuygur – how’s that whole “progressive” thing working out for you? 🤦♀️ https://t.co/sxbplDBgYb
— Christy Smith (@ChristySmithCA) February 21, 2020
Uygur responded by suggesting this was a coordinated hit between Christy and the union that was supporting her:
Oh look, in a totally uncoordinated way I’m sure, the candidate that @IATSE is currently canvassing for puts out the same false attack against us. And this is on the day that she’s participating in the only forum she’s ever come to. I wonder if she’ll bring it up. So genuine! https://t.co/NPOi2nWxwN pic.twitter.com/kFlIlyuxOx
— Cenk Uygur (@cenkuygur) February 21, 2020
For the record, the people who work at TYT tell HuffPost that what Uygur is suggesting is not true: “staffers said their first organizing discussions date back more than two years, and their recent attempt to round up support began shortly before Uygur declared his candidacy ― a timeline confirmed by a union organizer.” But even if it were true that this was part of a plot, does Uygur realize the plot only works if he tries to discourage the union? If he’d responded by saying something like, ‘Hey, guys, this is a great idea and I’m so glad you are pursuing it’ then there wouldn’t be any issue for his opponent to exploit.
This isn’t the only bump in the road for Uygur’s run for office. In December, Bernie Sanders and Rep. Ro Khanna rescinded their endorsement of Uygur after complaints about sexist comments he’d made in the past.
Since Uygur, founder of liberal-leaning Young Turks internet news and opinion network, launched his congressional campaign last month, at least a dozen women’s, LGBTQ and Democratic organizations have denounced past comments and segments by the online talk-show host as sexist, racist, homophobic, anti-Islam and anti-Semitic.
In a tweet Friday, Sanders wrote, “[email protected] has been a longtime fighter against corruption. However, our movement is bigger than any one person. I hear my supporters who were frustrated and understand their concerns. Cenk today said he is rejecting all endorsements for his campaign and I retract my endorsement.”
Also Friday, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) rescinded his endorsement of Uygur, saying that Uygur’s “statements were wrong and hurtful which he has acknowledged.”
Uygur’s anti-union stance is a real own-goal for someone in his position. I wonder if his anti-union statements or the union itself, which employees still intend to form, will wind up doing more damage to his company.