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.