On Thursday members of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild will deliver sternly worded petitions to WaPo publisher Fred Ryan to demand a fair union contract.
The plan is to rally on the steps of WaPo at 12:30 p.m. They’ve collected over 450 signatures.
“The signatures represent people from across the company, including employees who cover the White House, drive the Post’s circulation trucks or sell its ads,” states a release from staff writer Fredrick Kunkle, the Guild’s co-chair.
The Guild created videos featuring Post employees discussing what’s at stake. Dave DeJesus, who is suing WaPo for age and race discrimination, is among those in the videos. “It doesn’t take a lot of innovation to care for people,” he says.
“The value of the company lies with the people who work there,” says graphics editor Emily Chow in one of the videos. “I think there are many different ways to say we value you and I don’t think that’s necessarily coming across.”
“It’s a strange time. In many ways everyone is thrilled…but then it also feels somewhat of a bitter pill that there’s this ugly debate over something that we all taken for granted for so long,” said Philip Kennicott, an art and architecture critic. “It seems a matter of fairness. It’s hard to reconcile with the other positive, enthusiast feelings for the Post growing again.”
To set the scene, the Guild says it’s in the middle of “extremely difficult” bargaining talks with WaPo. Members say WaPo owner, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, treats employees like they are expendable.
“The Post’s new owner, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has seemed bent on sending the message that while the Post is once again on an upward path, its employees — the people who write the stories, film the videos, and sell the ads – are expendable,” says the release. “He has shown that the new media era is not so different from any other era of big business when corporations cite fierce competition to justify unfair treatment of workers. It’s 1 percent versus the 99 percent.”
A backgrounder says since talks between WaPo and the Guild began last fall, the company has tried to “freeze the pension, cut severance pay, cut health care insurance for part-timers [an expense to the company of about $35,000 a year for the small number of employees affected] and offer a pay increase so small it won’t keep up with inflation.”
Does a rally make a difference in negotiating what they want?
“We hope it does,” Guild staff rep Rick Ehrmann told The Mirror in a phone interview Wednesday, explaining that they picketed WaPo last fall. “We’ve made some progress in bargaining, but not on the main issues.”
Asked to name the main points of contention, Ehrmann says 1. freezing of the pension, 2. fair wage increases, and 3. cutting off health benefits for part-time employees, which he says is a WaPo proposal still on the table.
Ehrmann remarked that acts like picketing and rallies do appear to make a difference.
“There were a number of important issues that we have resolved over these seven months,” he said. “So yes, we have made progress in bargaining over important issues. But now we have a handful of key issues that need to get resolved. The Post needs to compromise on them.”
What have they resolved?
Erhmann said language for senior employees has been finalized and provides “substantial job security.” He said the Post has agreed to include a number of employees that it had excluded from coverage under the protections of the contract. “They did not include them as guild-covered employees,” he said.
“We have negotiated a fair settlement, which resulted in 40 more employees being covered by the guild contract, which gives those employees a lot of protection that people under the contract do not have,” he said. “If you are protected you can only be disciplined or terminated for just cause. Without that benefit, you’re an at-will employee.”
WaPo has more than 300 dues-paying employees in the Guild.