400 staffers at the Washington Post signed an open letter on Thursday asking for fair wages from the owner of the newspaper and the richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos, as Splinter points out. This open letter and social media campaign follows the recent announcements that both Vox and The New Yorker have unionized, and the owners have formally recognized their unions.
The letter thanks Bezos for buying the company, but goes on to point out the multiple ways he’s falling short as an owner. The union asks for “fair wages; fair benefits for retirement, family leave and health care; and a fair amount of job security.” The newspaper’s union, which is made up of 880 editorial and business staffers, has been in tense contract negotiations with Bezos’s management team for over a year.
They list their terms as follows:
Offering $10 a week in pay increases—or about 0.6 percent of the median salary and less than half the current rate of inflation—is unfair and even shocking from someone who believes democracy dies in darkness.
Refusing to improve retirement benefits is unfair, particularly since you froze the traditional pension. The current retirement plans, including a 1 percent match on our 401(k), suggest that you place little value in your employees’ future financial security.
Pushing for the right to indiscriminately lay off anyone is unfair—and a recipe for future discrimination against older employees and minorities.
Further cutting severance for people who face layoffs or whose job has been outsourced is unfair, particularly since management has already won the right to drastically cut severance for people who are let go for cause.
Demanding that laid-off employees waive their legal rights to receive severance payments is an extreme demand and an ominous one—particularly in light of the Post’s mixed record on fair treatment for women, racial minorities and older employees.”
The Post was in decline during the digital age when Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, shocked everyone and bought the newspaper in 2013 for $250 million. Bezos is worth an estimated $141 billion, surpassing Bill Gates as the richest man in the world as of July of 2017. So far, he has made well-received changes and the 140-year-old newspaper has been on the rise. He has revitalized the newspaper and been praised for his efforts to create content more suitable for the digital world. Even the Washington Post’s new tagline reveals a new age for the newspaper: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”
However, the employees of the Post aren’t as fond of Bezos due to his constant refusal to accept their requests as stated in the letter. Frederick Kunkle, a metro reporter and co-chair of the Post’s bargaining unit, told Splinter:
The more disturbing thing is the unwillingness to move on these issues. We are toward the end of settling this contract, and it’s not going to be a great contract. We know that. We’ve basically spent a year fighting off bad things.
Amazon has been criticized for its low wages and poor working conditions since its beginning, which transferred over to the Post when Bezos bought it. How much say Bezos has in the contract negotiations has not been made public, but he is the owner, so he obviously has the final word. As for the outcome, of this public plea and social media campaign, Kunkle said, “On the one hand, I’m really hopeful given how many people have joined this fight. On the other hand, I’ve helped negotiate two contracts with our new owner, and the trend line is not pretty as to where they want to take this company and how they want to treat its employees.”