Employees at the Washington Post Strike in the Largest Labor Dispute in 48 Years
In the largest labor strike at the company in almost 50 years, over 750 Washington Post employees announced they were leaving early on Thursday and refusing to work for a full day.
Editors and other managers got ready to take on many of the duties involved in producing a daily news report, from writing articles to running printing presses, as workers organized a day-long picket and rally outside The Post’s offices in downtown Washington and asked readers to abstain from the newspaper and its website for the day in solidarity.
Members of the union claimed they are leaving to protest an impasse in negotiations with the corporation that has left employees without a contract for the past eighteen months. In addition, they take issue with the company’s recent offer to employees of cost-saving buyouts, claiming that the terms are unfair and that the supposedly voluntary packages are being forced by the possibility of layoffs.
Climate reporter and steward for The Washington Post Guild Sarah Kaplan said, “This is a declaration by hundreds of Washington Post staffers saying that if the company is to work with us fairly, it has to respect its employees.”
She continued, “I know they will still try to get a paper out.” “But without us, they can’t publish a good paper.”
Executives at the company refute the union’s allegation that it engaged in “bad faith” negotiations, saying they remain hopeful of reaching a contract before the end of the month.
A corporate spokesman stated, “We respect our Guild-covered colleagues’ right to participate in this planned one-day strike.” “We will take all reasonable steps to ensure that our customers and readers are unaffected.”
The business expressed confidence in its ability to continue printing and delivering newspapers on Thursday and Friday as usual and to maintain an active and functional website.
Regular readers will be able to see the impact of the walkout in one particular way, though: many staff photographers, artists, and reporters will remove their names from their work.
The Post is dealing with internal leadership upheaval in addition to the same economic issues that have shook the global media landscape at the moment of the walkout.
Executives at Amazon, which was founded by Jeff Bezos, said last autumn that the company had grown a little too quickly during the previous ten years and that it would have to make some cuts when the company’s high financial expectations fell short of reality. The buyout offers are the result of The Post’s anticipated $100 million loss this year, which officials expect will lead to 240 voluntary departures, or roughly 10% of the present workforce. The newsroom would account for about half of those reductions.
The business will soon have a new CEO and publisher. Fred Ryan stepped down earlier this year, and William Lewis, an experienced media executive of British descent who most recently worked for the Wall Street Journal, was chosen last month to take his position.
The Post’s last significant labor walkout occurred 48 years ago. Workers at printing presses launched a 20-week strike in the fall of 1975. During this turbulent time, some workers sabotaged the machines, and executives from the company took over to run the machinery and produce the newspapers themselves. Ultimately, though, The Post’s then-publisher Katharine Graham recruited replacement workers to run the presses, thereby destroying their union, because the majority of journalists chose not to take part in the strike.
However, Guild members report that interest in organizing is growing these days. Five years ago, only around 40% of eligible Post employees were union dues-paying members; today, over 75% of them do.
It coincides with a broader surge in labor organizing in the media industry. The walkout at The Post is similar to one that occurred at the New York Times nearly precisely a year ago, when over 1,100 employees stopped working for the day in protest of impasse in contract negotiations. Five months later, the parties came to an agreement on a new contract.
According to statements from the Guild, negotiations have stalled on issues like pay scales (the Guild is requesting minimums of $100,100 for reporters, for instance, while The Post’s most recent offer is $73,000) and the amount of yearly cost-of-living increases.
“We’re not keeping up with inflation or our competitors with our salaries,” Kaplan said, citing the Post’s high employee attrition rate to other news outlets.
The Post’s bargaining committee counters that it has expressed receptivity to the Guild’s request for longer contracts and agreed to many other of its demands. The committee stated that the present offer includes annual increments that are “more generous than typical Guild contracts signed in the last two decades” as well as “significant” improvements to the minimum salary.
A Post representative stated, “The Post has made its last, best, and final offer to the Guild.”
However, the newsroom continues to be tense and anxious due to the buyout plan. Because the corporation is funding the offers out of a vastly overfunded pension fund, guild members contend that they could be far more generous. The offers vary in length from six months to two years of base pay, depending on the staff member’s employment. In the meantime, they claim that those who have received buyout offers frequently feel pressured by threats that The Post may implement layoffs in the event that there aren’t enough voluntary exits from the organization.
With just a few weeks remaining before a deadline in mid-December, interim CEO Patty Stonesifer revealed last week that only roughly 120 workers had accepted an offer—less than half of what was required.
Co-chair of the Guild and reporter for Maryland courts and crime, Katie Mettler, stated earlier this week that she would miss a crucial day in the trial of a police officer accused of shooting and killing a man who was restrained.
“It’s possible the decision will be made as I’m leaving,” she remarked. “I take that very seriously. I’m sure someone from The Washington Post will be in court Thursday. But unlike me, they won’t be familiar with the case.
In actuality, an acquittal concluded the trial on Wednesday afternoon. The Post reported on it without providing a byline, citing just “Washington Post Staff.”