“Hands off my severance pay!” shouted Joel Achenbach outside of The Washington Post headquarters Thursday in downtown Washington.
Achenbach, a WaPo staff writer, and a cluster of his colleagues banned together for a union rally that would culminate in employees hand delivering 475 signatures to publisher Fred Ryan. Among the specifics they want in their union contracts: 1. No freezing their pensions; 2. Fair wage increases; 3. Health care coverage for part-time employees, which WaPo is threatening to cut.
Dave DeJesus, an award-winning WaPo sales employee who is suing the publication for age and race discrimination, was in the crowd, along with staff writer and Guild co-chair Freddy Kunkle and Guild rep Robert Erhmann.
Asked if signing the petition got him any cold reactions from superiors, DeJesus replied, “I don’t get any pushback.” Smiling a little, he added, “People give me a lot of space.”
Kunkle got his fellow employees revved up to deliver the petitions. He had particularly harsh words for Ryan and WaPo owner, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.
“We know this is a very difficult time in the media business,” he said. “…But we also have to feel that as we are moving forward it shouldn’t be our sacrifice alone.”
A reporter shouted, “THAT’S RIGHT!”
Kunkle continued, “The fact that this company wants to cut health benefits for part-time employees — it’s shocking that it’s still on the table. The entire cost is $35,000. How that’s possible when this company is owned by a multi-billionaire is unbelievable. It shows how cold and thoughtless the publisher is right now.”
One face that was not in the crowd was that of Erik Wemple, who writes WaPo‘s rarely reported media blog. Even though Wemple has said he believes it’s important to cover WaPo employee matters, especially layoffs, he did not cover this rally, nor has he covered the discrimination lawsuit of the aforementioned DeJesus. He also didn’t cover publisher Ryan’s recent announcement concerning layoffs on the business side of the newspaper.
The Mirror sent Wemple an email asking why he didn’t attend the rally — does he not agree with what his coworkers want? — and why he’s not covering it. Is he busy doing pushups this afternoon?
He seemed rather unmoved by what his colleagues’ plight and sent me this boring shit.
“I believe I covered a previous rally, though am at [sic] panel discussion now and cannot fetch link,” he replied to The Mirror referring to a story I sent him on the WaPo rally. “So I am not hesitant to cover my own workplace. As for this particular event, there was no particular rationale for covering/not covering. Will likely cover this matter again as it moves along.”
Asked what panel he was at today, Wemple did not immediately reply. Perhaps it was a finger sniffing seminar? (Wemple recently admitted in a “full disclosure” that he’s “a total mediocrity” and a “finger sniffer.”)
When he did reply to my question, he said he was at “National press ftn on RS story.”
The Mirror scanned Wemple’s blog to find out what could be more important than his coworkers’ plight for fair wages and health benefits in the past 24 hours. Story topics include: 1. MSNBC’s failure to address tax problems of hosts (a story that’s already all over the place); 2. A UVA associate blasting Rolling Stone in an open letter (yawn!) and 3. The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart telling Dana Perino that he appreciates material from Fox News. (A SUPER IMPORTANT four paragraph post about Stewart expressing his gratitude for FNC on last night’s program.)
This is what Wemple’s working on and why he couldn’t cover his paper’s own union difficulties or get his ass downstairs to the rally?
With that, the WaPo protestors moved out of the chilly air and into WaPo toward the elevators to Ryan’s office.
Photographs by Grae Stafford.