WaPo Union Wants Bezos To Be A ‘Leader,’ Not A Loser — Or Else

Reuters/Isaiah J. Downing

Betsy Rothstein Gossip blogger
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Washington Post workers are hopping mad at the way tech billionaire owner Jeff Bezos is handling the latest round of contract negotiations. Leading up to a Wednesday meeting with lawyers, they are picketing Tuesday afternoon outside the company’s HQ.

The issues:

*WaPo is refusing to increase its 1 percent match for 401K benefits.

*WaPo wants to severance pay for laid off employees.

*WaPo wants to do away with percentage annual pay increases.

By law, WaPo must negotiate with the union — in this case, the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild — over compensation, benefits, severance pay  and working conditions.

At WaPo, about 1000 people are covered by the contract. Meanwhile, only some 400 employees pay their union dues. This is the second round of contract negotiations under Bezos and so far, things are not going well. Negotiations have been going on since late summer.

“It’s gotten so much worse,” said Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild President Robert Struckman in a phone conversation with The Mirror. “I think it’s a knee-jerk feeling. But what I’ve seen is that rugged, sharp creativity. They’ve taken that approach to cracking down on workers at the Post. It doesn’t make sense. These are the workers who make the Post function, who make the quality that is the brand of The Washington Post. We want him to be a leader.”

When I suggested the possibility of a strike if their needs are not met, Struckman quickly shut down that train of thought. “Let’s not go there,” he said somewhat sternly.

Struckman, whose day job is writing speeches for AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, said he and the picketers are not trying to antagonize Bezos or the lawyers trying to negotiate their contract this week.

“I’m not trying to beat up Jeff Bezos,” Struckman stressed. “What we want him to do is be a leader and to recognize that the knee-jerk way that some employers have treated their workers is not smart. Some of the decisions he’s making right now — ending across the board wage increases, slashing job security. They want us to be at-will employees, so seniority doesn’t count in layoffs. That’s really important. If you’re a journalist or an ad sales person and you’re going to dedicate your career, your life to the skill that it takes to be a top journalist in this country — holding our nation accountable — that takes time and energy and a lot of experience. It takes a true longterm commitment.”

Lawyers originally gave the Guild a Nov. 1 deadline. “Essentially what they were told was if they didn’t agree by November 1st that the demands from the company would be more intense,” said Brian DeBose, a publicist for the Guild, in a phone conversation with The Mirror. 

That deadline has obviously passed. “There was a big period of time that I was worried they were going to stop negotiating with us altogether,” Struckman said.

DeBose says the union will not agree to the “more draconian” measures they believe Bezos wants.

I sought comment from a WaPo spokesperson on the fragile state of the negotiations.

Asked if Tuesday’s picketing could hurt the process, Struckman replied, “Pickets like all protests are disruptive.”

“Just like those fantastic football players kneeling. But it can promote conversations and that’s what needs to happen. We’re not trying to insult them or Bezos or his team but we do want to disrupt the way this negotiation is going because it’s not going,” he said.

More hopefully, he added, “I honestly think that he [Bezos] is going to take a new look at the way he is interacting with his workers.”

Even so, the possibility of a strike looms if the two sides can’t reach an agreement.