Washington Post employees walk off job in labor protest

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By journalsofus.com

More than 750 Washington Post employees said they were walking off the job Thursday morning, refusing to work 24 hours a day in the company’s largest labor protest in nearly half a century.

As workers planned a day-long sit-in and rally outside The Post’s offices in downtown Washington—and asked readers to stay away from the newspaper and its website for the day in a show of solidarity—editors and other managers rushed to ramp up production. They were designed to handle the many tasks involved in daily news reporting, from writing articles to running the printing press.

Union members said they were walking out in protest at a bargaining impasse with the company that has left workers without a contract for 18 months. He has also objected to the company’s recent offer of cost-saving buyouts to employees, saying the terms are harsh and that apparently voluntary packages are being forced by the threat of layoffs.

“This is a declaration from hundreds of Washington Post employees that if the company wants to work fairly with us, it has to respect its employees,” said Sarah Kaplan, climate reporter and manager of the Washington Post Guild. “

“I know they’ll still try to get the paper out,” he said. “But they can’t put out a good paper without us.”

Company officials deny the union’s claims that it bargained in “bad faith” and say they still hope to reach a contract by the end of the month.

A company spokesperson said, “We respect the rights of our guild-affiliated colleagues to join this planned one-day strike.” “We will ensure that our readers and customers remain unaffected as much as possible.”

The company expressed confidence that it would be able to print and distribute newspapers as normal Thursday and Friday while keeping its website up and active.

But in at least one way, the effect of the walkout will be obvious to regular readers: many staff journalists, photographers and artists will withdraw their names from their work.

The walkout comes as The Post grapples with internal leadership changes and the same economic challenges that have rocked the media industry around the world.

After a decade of rapid growth under Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ ownership, executives acknowledged this fall that the company has expanded too much and will be forced to make cuts after failing to meet optimistic financial projections. The Post is set to lose $100 million this year — the impetus for the buyout offer, which executives expect will result in 240 voluntary departures, or about 10 percent of the current workforce. About half of those cuts will come from the newsroom.

Meanwhile, the company is going to get a new publisher and CEO. William Lewis, a British-born veteran media executive most recently at The Wall Street Journal, was chosen last month to replace Fred Ryan, who stepped down earlier this year.

It’s been 48 years since the last major labor walkout at The Post. In the fall of 1975, printing press workers led a strike that lasted 20 weeks – a chaotic period in which some workers disabled the presses and company executives came in to run the machinery and print the newspapers themselves. However, most journalists did not participate in the strike, and ultimately, Katharine Graham, then publisher of The Post, hired replacement staff to run the press, essentially breaking their union.

Today, however, guild members say enthusiasm for the event is growing. About 75 percent of eligible Post employees are now dues-paying members of the union, up from about 40 percent five years ago.

This follows a massive surge in labor organizing within the media world. The Post’s walkout is similar to that at The New York Times a year ago, where more than 1,100 employees walked off the job for the day in protest over deadlocked contract negotiations. The two sides agreed to a new contract five months later.

Statements from the guild indicate that bargaining has become difficult over matters such as salary – for example, the guild is demanding a minimum of $100,100 for journalists, while The Post’s latest offer is $73,000 – and annual cost of living. The size increases.

“Our pay has not kept up with inflation or is on par with our competitors,” Kaplan said, adding that The Post has lost a lot of staff to other news organizations for this reason.

The Post’s bargaining committee says it has indicated openness to the guild’s request for longer contracts and has agreed to many of its other priorities. Its current proposal provides “significant” changes to the minimum wage and annual increases that are “more generous than the typical guild contracts signed over the past two decades,” the committee said.

“The Post has made its last, best and final offer to the Guild,” a Post spokesperson said.

However, the buyout plan remains a source of tension and anxiety in the newsroom. Guild members argue that the offers – which range from six months to two years of base pay depending on the staff member’s tenure – could be far more generous, because the company pays for them from its massively overstretched pension fund. Has been. Meanwhile, those who have been offered buyouts, he says, often feel compelled by warnings that the company will resort to post layoffs if it does not have enough voluntary departures.

Last week, interim CEO Patty Stonecipher said only about 120 employees had accepted an offer, just weeks before the mid-December deadline required.

Katie Mettler, a reporter and co-president of the guild who covers courts and crime in Maryland, said earlier this week that participating in the walkout meant she would attend a crucial day in the trial of a police officer accused of shooting and murder. May be absent for. Man wearing handcuffs.

“It is possible that the decision will come when I am leaving,” she said. “I don’t take it lightly. I’m sure someone from the Washington Post will be in court on Thursday. But they will not be as knowledgeable about the matter as I am.”

As it turned out, the trial ended with an acquittal on Wednesday afternoon. The Post’s story about it was published without a byline – it was credited only to “Washington Post staff.”

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