A union representing employees at the Washington Post is stepping up a public pressure campaign against the newspaper's owner, Jeff Bezos. There's also a petition the union says was signed by more than 400 employees that says in part:
All we are asking for is fairness for each and every employee who contributed to this company's success: fair wages; fair benefits for retirement, family leave and health care; and a fair amount of job security.
• 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.
They are also complaining that the benefits are richer for employees of the New York Times: "the Times gets 4x more paid parental leave than we do." The Times is owned by Carlos Slim (okay, he's the largest economic owner), who, while he is very rich, isn't quite as rich as Bezos.
I'm all for the union negotiating the best possible deal for its members, but from the perspective of readers and news quality there's an almost comical aspect to the newsroom employees complaining. After all, they have jobs, and ones that are better than the few left remaining elsewhere in the newspaper industry, and ones that open the doors to lucrative book contracts and cable television contributing commentator deals. New York Times reporter Amy Chozick's book Chasing Hillary describes the traveling press corps assigned to Hillary Clinton obsessing over the Marriott reward points they were accumulating while being put up for weeks at corporate expense at a Ritz-Carlton hotel.
A lot of American workers don't have any 401(k) match at all, and a lot of them are employed in situations in which their employer does indeed have the right to lay them off at will. Maybe if journalists had deals that were less cushy, the journalists would be able to relate better to economically stressed American families that they cover.