Contract Talks at the Post Head Into Fifth Month

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After a series of off-the-record contract talks between Washington Post management and the Guild bargaining team failed to resolve many key issues, negotiators agreed on one thing in early September: It was time to go back to the table.  

The two-year contract – the second under Amazon CEO Jeff Bezo, who bought the newspaper in 2013 – expired June 10. As it was in the beginning, the bottom-line message is clear for 850 WBNG-represented employees: “Longevity is not an aim of Post management.” 

That’s long been the assessment of bargaining-team member and Post shop co-chair Freddy Kunkle. When on-the-record contract talks resumed Oct. 4, management proposed what the union bargaining team described as “a terrible, short-sighted, morale-destroying proposal … that would deliver real pain to many employees.”

Among other things, the Post would discard across-the-board salary increases and create a multi-tier salary system based solely on merit pay. In each previous Guild contract, baseline pay raises serve as the foundation for merit increases.  

As the Guild bulletin about the proposal points out: “There is simply no way that the bargaining committee can ask members to approve a contract that has a built-in pay freeze for many employees, one subject to the imperfect job-performance-review process.”

A second company offer is for a lump-sum payment of $600 in the first year of the contract, and a raise of $8 a week in the second year. Meanwhile, the Post is insisting not only on cutting severance pay, but demanding that employees sign a waiver of their legal rights if they want to collect that severance.

On Sept. 27, nearly 100 Guild members and their supporters picketed the newspaper headquarters on K Street. Among those walking the line was meteorologist Angela Fritz, a member of the Capital Weather Gang whose recent hurricane coverage earned her the paper’s Publisher’s Award for August. 

“It’s very simple and straightforward,” said Fritz about her WBNG membership. “The Guild is negotiating on my behalf. Everything the Guild does is to my benefit. I wouldn’t feel good not joining the people who are negotiating for me.” 

Kunkle, a reporter for the paper’s Metro desk, reminded the crowd that the Post is setting new records for readership. “All we’re asking for is a reasonable pay raise from the richest man on the planet, for an institution that’s important for democracy.”

Kunkle had drawn fire from Post management with a Sept. 1 op-ed that appeared in the Huffington Post. Headlined “Jeff Bezos Wants To Give More Money To Charity. He Should Pay His Workers First,” his article addressed specific items under negotiation and described how charitable giving practices can provide cover for a billionaire’s unfair treatment of employees.

Kunkle pointed out that Bezos froze Guild employees’ pensions in the contract signed in June 2015, and that management negotiators have been pressing  to weaken seniority provisions and reduce severance pay.

A few days after the HuffPost article appeared, Kunkle received a written warning over his “egregious violation of the Post’s ethics policy on freelancing.” The Post co-chair said he had offered the story to his employer’s publication but had been turned down. 

On Sept. 5, WBNG filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge against the Post. The ULP accuses the Post of violating Kunkle’s legally protected right to engage in “concerted activities” to further the union’s interests.

Foreign Policy Unit Wins First Guild Contract

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After  nearly a year of collective bargaining, the Washington-Baltimore News Guild and the  Foreign Policy magazine have reached agreement on a two-year contract. 

The unit was organized in 2016, when FP editorial workers voted 16 to 1 in favor of Guild representation.

Among the highlights of the new agreement are guaranteed raises for everyone, minimum salaries for every position, and cash overtime pay for those  in positions with minimum salaries below $46,000 a year. Guild-covered workers ineligible for cash overtime will  receive compensatory time off for work performed on weekends.

The bargaining unit’s first contract also features a “just cause” stipulation for termination and all forms of discipline. “We won’t be at-will employees anymore,” said  Unit Chair Ben Soloway in an email to Guild members at  FP. “No more arbitrary firing. Discipline will have to follow a very clear process.”

Soloway noted that the contract also provides layoff protections. “If layoffs happen, seniority will play a role, and FP will have to abide by a one-year rehire list. This also protects us from the use of layoffs to get around just cause for termination. “

The contract also outlines grievance and arbitration procedures to resolve disputes. And there will be an immediate one-time payment of $1,500 into each union member’s retirement account. 

In 2008, Foreign Policy magazine and associated web products were bought by the Washington Post Company.
When the family-owned Post was sold to amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos in August 2013, what is now known as Graham Holdings Company retained  FP. FP Guild members produce the FP magazine six times a year as well as the Foreignpolicy.com website.

2017 WBNG Election Results

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The votes have been counted and here are the results for the 2017 WBNG Election:

President
Sheila Lindsay, 204
Robert Struckman, 214

Vice President
Elise Bryant, 214
Amy Lampkin, 202

Secretary
David DeJesus, 212
John Ringstad, 30
Mikhail Romanov, 174

See the full election results here.

Why Post Meteorologist Angela Fritz is Walking the Line

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Last week, among the crowd at the sunbaked informational picket line outside the Washington Post at the noon hour, Angela Fritz marched and chanted for a new contract with better retirement security for Post workers. Fritz is a meteorologist, a member of the Capital Weather Gang and the recipient of the Washington Post’s Publisher’s Award for her hurricane coverage last month. She shared the honor with fellow Capital Weather Gang reporter Jason Samenow. “It’s very simple and straightforward,” said Fritz about her membership in the Washington-Baltimore News Guild. “The Guild is negotiating on my behalf. Everything the Guild does is to my benefit. I wouldn’t feel good not joining the people who are negotiating for me.”  Fritz, who has worked at the Post for three years, says she doesn’t think much about where she’ll be in 10 years, much less where and how she’ll retire. That’s one reason why the Guild has such a sharp focus on retirement benefits, which management at the Post has been attacking in recent contracts, including ongoing contract talks. She says she’s proud to work at the Post and loves how journalism provides a public service. “I feel a responsibility to our readers and our followers, to make sure they have the best information possible. So many people put in more than their fair share of work every day, and I think it translates into excellent journalism and coverage,” Fritz said. 

(www.dclabor.org/home/archives/10-2017/11  Story by Robert Struckman; photo by Chris Garlock) 

Staff at M+R Strategic Services Votes Guild

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Members of a prospective bargaining unit of nearly 90 workers at a communications firm that specializes in work for nonprofit organizations voted Sept. 20 to join the Washington-Baltimore News Guild.

A majority of the eligible employees of M+R Strategic Services had signed union-representation cards by early last summer. But when they asked the firm to voluntarily recognize the Guild, management opted to have the National Labor Relations Board conduct an election.

Workers filed their petition for an election in July. Shortly thereafter, the Guild defeated management’s effort to exclude from the election process 19 potential unit members as voters. When the balloting was finished, the results showed that nearly 60 percent of the staff favored Guild representation.

Bruce Jett, the Guild’s organizing consultant, helped the M+R staffers navigate the ins and outs of the process. “They wanted a true voice at work. They really vetted the Guild before they committed to us,” he said.

The new Guild members work long hours, Jett said, “but they love their work and love the company.” Among their concerns were health care, pay and greater transparency, he said.

The online advocacy company works on strategic visibility events and social media campaigns, primarily with labor unions and other nonprofits.

In addition to its office in Washington, M+R has offices in New York City, Oakland (Calif.), Los Angeles, and Boston.