Washington Post Union Wants Same Raise As Publisher

Blog ››› ››› JOE STRUPP

Union leaders representing newsroom and other employees at The Washington Post want the same 16.4% pay raise that Publisher Katharine Weymouth received this year, according to a message to rank-and-file members that also criticized management contract demands regarding holidays and salary issues.

The salary request occurred during this week's first round of contract negotiations. The Guild's current contract with the Post expires on June 7, 2011.

In a bulletin to members issued late Thursday, the Washington Baltimore Newspaper Guild Local 32035 declared: "After at least three years of doing much more with less, the Guild is asking for a 16.4 percent across-the-board pay increase -- exactly the amount given to the Post's publisher this year."

A March SEC filing by the Post revealed the 16.4% pay hike for Weymouth, who has been publisher since 2008. It also stated that Weymouth received a substantial performance bonus last year:

In 2010, Ms. Weymouth was paid $537,000 in base salary and received a bonus of $483,750 based on the achievement of pre-established 2010 performance goals. In addition, Ms. Weymouth received $1,053,441 based on achieving pre-established goals under the WP Media Three-Year Long-Term Incentive Plan and a payment of $72,000 for her 2,400 vested Performance Units in the 2007-2010 Award Cycle.. Effective April 1, 2011, Ms. Weymouth's base salary will increase to $625,000.

Interestingly, the Post's own bargaining bulletin, also issued this week, reveals that the paper lost revenue, circulation, and advertising income while under Weymouth's watch:

The Newspaper Publishing Division (of which The Post is the major part) reported significant operating losses in 2008 and 2009, and a smaller operating loss in 2010 (due in part to several one-time charges), and The Post continues to experience declines in circulation and print advertising revenue. In 2010, for example, The Post's Sunday and Daily circulation fell 8.2% and 7.5%, respectively.

Print advertising revenue at The Post also continued to drop, falling 6% last year on top of prior years' declines; as the following chart demonstrates (using information from Washington Post Company earnings reports), Post print advertising revenues in 2010 were 50% lower than in 2005, when The Post and the Guild last held on-the-record contract negotiations.

The Guild also criticized a management request to ease restrictions on layoffs and reduce severance pay while eliminating a provision that allows employees to trade a traditional holiday for another recognized holiday if they choose:

Not Christian? Too bad. The Post would eliminate an employees' right to substitute a traditional paid holiday, such as Christmas, for another recognized holiday of their choice. This from a company whose editorial page often lauds the importance of diversity.

A Post spokesperson declined to comment on the raise, the proposed severance, and layoff changes or the holiday provision. She referred Media Matters to the bargaining bulletin mentioned above.

The Post's bulletin said that the newspaper had yet to form a salary proposal, stating:

While we know many Guild-covered employees are interested in the parties' wage proposals, we told the Guild that The Post was not prepared to make a wage proposal during the opening bargaining session, but would do so as negotiations progress.

We explained to the Guild that we need time to analyze the Guild's proposals in light of the business challenges facing the paper, to consider how realistically the Guild responds to The Post's key proposals, and to see what type of progress we can make on other economic and non-economic items before putting a wage proposal on the table.

Both the Guild bulletin and the Post bulletin are below.

The Guild bulletin:

Guild Seeks Fair Contract

For the first time in years, the Post and the Guild met at the bargaining table this week and offered proposals for a new labor contract. In one sense, they also offered competing views of the world.

Here's the Guild's, guided by the concept that what's fair is fair:

After at least three years of doing much more with less, the Guild is asking for a 16.4 percent across-the-board pay increase -- exactly the amount given to the Post's publisher this year.

To restore progressivity, lower-income employees should return to making smaller payments for health insurance coverage than their better-paid colleagues and managers

All employees should receive a 5 percent company match on 401K contributions, not just those who were hired before September 2009.

With a 24/7 news cycle, Guild-covered employees should receive better pay differentials for weekend and night duty.

Raise the salary cap for overtime eligibility to $70,000.

Add two new paid holidays and a floating holiday.

Restore seniority as the sole factor in deciding layoffs.

Expand the use of accrued sick leave to care for other family members.

Require the Post to be more transparent in its award of merit pay.

Here's the Post's view, which seems to be guided by the idea that you should feel lucky the company pays you -- and don't get used to it, either:

The Post would eliminate almost all current job security protections, leaving every employee vulnerable to arbitrary dismissal. You could be laid off and replaced with an outside writer, blogger, etc. faster than you can say "Huffington Post."

If layoffs occur, the Post would assume almost total control over the process by defining affected "work areas" and exempting up to half the lay-off candidates for any reason, regardless of seniority.

If you are laid off, you'll get half the severance pay the Post pays now.

The Post would no longer be required to rehire a person laid off for economic reasons if a new vacancy occurred later. The Post's bargaining team has already hinted that the company intends to use "economic necessity" to oust Guild-covered employees management doesn't like.

The Post wants the power to whack the salaries of workers who are demoted or re-classified into new Guild-covered positions.

Not Christian? Too bad. The Post would eliminate an employees' right to substitute a traditional paid holiday, such as Christmas, for another recognized holiday of their choice. This from a company whose editorial page often lauds the importance of diversity.

The Post is silent on pay increases, though about 60 percent of the staff hasn't received a nickel more in regular pay increases since 2008.

To create more revenue "hunters," the Post wants to increase the number of advertising sales reps who work solely on commission. No base pay.

The Guild believes modern American companies, especially those who style themselves as upholding a public trust, should share the wealth as well as the risk.

The Post wants to take us back to - what? The age of hunters and gatherers? Or toward an Info Age form of feudalism where content producers and others work for free?

The Guild Bargaining Committee

Freddy Kunkle, Darlene Meyer, Nikita Stewart, Mike Gronowski, Christian Hettinger, James Crudup, Rick Ehrmann, Bruce Nelson

The Post bulletin:

BARGAINING UPDATE POST AND GUILD BEGIN NEGOTIATIONS

The Post and the Guild held their first contract negotiation session today. For Guild-covered employees new to The Post, this is when representatives of The Post and the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild sit down to negotiate a new labor contract to replace the contract expiring on June 7, 2011. As the parties work toward a new contract at the bargaining table over the next several weeks, we will keep you informed of our progress through updates like this one.

The Business Climate

Much has changed at The Post in the two years since the parties reached the current agreement in June 2009. Most significantly, we've closed the College Park plant, integrated the print and digital operations, released iPhone and iPad apps, launched enhancements to the Sunday paper, and implemented our new content management system. We've also created important new businesses and products like Washington Post Live, Capital Business, Service Alley, and The Capitol Deal - all in an effort to create the next generation of journalism products and counteract the significant business challenges that The Post has faced in recent years.

While The Post's 2010 results were better than in 2009 - largely due to expense reductions - the challenges facing The Post and our industry remain. The Newspaper Publishing Division (of which The Post is the major part) reported significant operating losses in 2008 and 2009, and a smaller operating loss in 2010 (due in part to several one-time charges), and The Post continues to experience declines in circulation and print advertising revenue. In 2010, for example, The Post's Sunday and Daily circulation fell 8.2% and 7.5%, respectively.

Print advertising revenue at The Post also continued to drop, falling 6% last year on top of prior years' declines; as the following chart demonstrates (using information from Washington Post Company earnings reports), Post print advertising revenues in 2010 were 50% lower than in 2005, when The Post and the Guild last held on-the-record contract negotiations.

While Digital revenue is $32.8M higher in 2010 than it was in 2005, this does not come close to covering the nearly $300M decline in print advertising revenue at The Post during the same period.

Against this backdrop, at the bargaining table today, The Post made clear to the Guild and its committee that reaching a new contract will require both parties to be focused and realistic, given these continuing business challenges.

The Post's Proposals

With that approach in mind, The Post did not propose wholesale changes or revisions to the current contract. Instead, The Post's proposals include changes that are necessary to its efforts to manage its operations more efficiently and economically, without resorting to the type of short-term approaches that other newspapers and media organizations have taken.

While other newspapers have insisted on across-the-board pay cuts, unpaid furloughs, or suspended 401k matches, The Post is not seeking such solutions in these negotiations, despite today's challenging environment - hoping instead to find ways to operate more efficiently and strategically to protect the long-term health of the business.

In fact, in its opening proposal, The Post proposed to continue, unchanged, the current sick leave, vacation, pension and Savings Plan benefits for Guild-covered employees. The Post also proposed to continue to provide health insurance and other elements of the Flexible Benefits Plan to Guild-covered employees on the same terms as exempt employees.

The Post proposed no changes to several other provisions important to the Guild, including Union Access, Union Security, and Dues Checkoff. For the most part, The Post's proposed changes are intended to streamline operations, eliminate unnecessary expenses, and increase flexibility. This includes continuing the contract's language allowing The Post to subcontract work, but eliminating restrictions on layoffs that are the direct and proximate result of such subcontracting.

The Post has proposed another two-year agreement, rather than a longer contract, since predicting the future of the business remains difficult. While we know many Guild-covered employees are interested in the parties' wage proposals, we told the Guild that The Post was not prepared to make a wage proposal during the opening bargaining session, but would do so as negotiations progress.

We explained to the Guild that we need time to analyze the Guild's proposals in light of the business challenges facing the paper, to consider how realistically the Guild responds to The Post's key proposals, and to see what type of progress we can make on other economic and non-economic items before putting a wage proposal on the table.

We certainly have work to do in order to reach a new agreement. Today the Guild made many economic proposals that are unrealistic in today's business climate. Nonetheless, between now and the next bargaining session, The Post will analyze the Guild's proposals and look for areas of common ground. The Post's committee is committed to working hard and constructively to reach agreement before June 7.

The Post's Bargaining Committee

Jay Kennedy, Costa Bugg, Shirley Carswell, James Dean, Jennifer Legat, and Peter Perl

Posted In
Economy, Labor Unions
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.