Sept. 29, 2017 – Nearly 100 members of the Washington-Baltimore News Guild (WBNG) and supporters walked a spirited informational picket line on Sept. 27 to demand a contract from Jeff Bezos, the billionaire owner of the Washington Post.
In July, CNBC declared that Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, was worth of $90.7 billion, making him — at least temporarily — “the richest person in the world.” He later dropped to third.
But apparently, Bezos doesn’t like to share.
“Compared to fellow billionaires like Gates and Warren Buffett, Bezos’ charitable contributions have been relatively limited,” CNBC wrote.
And management’s off-the-record contract proposal to Washington Post employees was so “unacceptable” to the union that talks broke down.
Fredrick Kunkle, co-chair of the Washington Post unit, told the crowd of picketers on Wednesday, “The man who owns Amazon should not be sending his employees up the creek.”
The Washington Post has been setting new records for readership, Kunkle said, “thanks to the hard work of everyone on the team, from the reporters to the guys who drive the trucks.
“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.”
Union members are demanding a raise; opposing management’s efforts to cut severance pay in half, and resisting attempts to force terminated employees to choose between receiving WBNG severance pay and “signing away any right to seek justice in the courts or other venues for wrongful dismissal,” according to a union bulletin.
“We need across-the-board wage increases for all our members,” said Rick Ehrmann, WBNG representative and chief negotiator, “We need an improvement in retirement benefits.”
Retirement benefits have been cut in recent years, “most egregiously in 2015, when, under the Bezos ownership, with a 200 percent surplus” in a traditional pension fund, he froze the plan, Ehrmann said.
Workers are also challenging a new social media policy. The Post has refused to bargain over the new “incredibly restrictive” policy “under which they can take disciplinary action against employees who on their own sites criticize companies that advertise in the Post,” he added.
On Again, Off Again
Contract talks, which began in early May, moved to off-the-record discussions in July to allow the parties to “negotiate with more candor and flexibility,” but the parties failed to reach agreement and in early September abandoned the effort.
“The return to the open bargaining table alone speaks to how unsatisfactory the Post’s proposals have been,” the bulletin published by the Guild said.
Formal, on-the-record negotiations are expected to resume on Oct. 4.
The local has filed complaints before the National Labor Relations Board charging the company with unfair labor practices, including the Post’s refusal to negotiate over its social media policy and its recent decision to take disciplinary action against Kunkle in retaliation for a pro-labor op-ed about Guild issues that appeared in Huffington Post.