Washington Post Guild: ‘The Post would like to fire you’

The Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild says a Washington Post proposal for a new agreement with the union “would give managers the power to fire anyone for any reason” and also inserts a “poison pill that would make it even harder for the union to collect dues at the end of the next contract.”

Its proposal says management “reserves the right to terminate an employee for attendance and performance problems” without a written warning and a suspension as is currently required, “in appropriate cases.”

Another proposal, the bulletin says, would “eliminate important layoff provisions.”

Under the current contract, if economic conditions force the Post to lay someone off, the Post is also required to reinstate the employee when economic conditions improve. In practice, this has forced the Post to negotiate buyouts.

The Post’s current agreement with the Guild expires July 26. Post spokesperson Kris Coratti declined to comment on the Guild bulletin.

The Post’s proposal and the Guild bulletin are below.

The Publisher’s Proposal by Matt DeLong

BULLETIN: The Post would like to fire you — and get rid of the union too
Colleagues,
How would you like to work in a place where you could be fired for no reason and without warning? Or be let go with two weeks’ notice or two weeks’ pay as a show of thanks for years of service? And where there would be no union to help you?
If the Post has its way, that’s where you’ll soon be.
On Tuesday, The Washington Post’s publisher dropped a bomb on the Guild on the first day of bargaining talks. Moments after saying that the company would not be seeking drastic changes in a proposed two-year contract, the publisher’s labor lawyer outlined its most contemptuous proposal in memory.
The Post would give managers the power to fire anyone for any reason without following the established disciplinary process and other rights we now enjoy. Thanks to the Guild’s existing contract, the Post must go through a system of progressive discipline, including oral and written warnings, before suspending or terminating an employee. Its decision is also subject to review by an arbitrator.
The Post hates this provision. That’s because it forces the Post to move cautiously, fairly and only in truly justifiable cases to fire someone. In more questionable cases, it forces the Post to negotiate buyouts.
But not anymore. Here is their proposal:
“In the event of a termination for failure to meet the Publisher’s attendance or performance standards, the requirements of progressive discipline shall be deemed to have been satisfied after the employee receives one written warning and one suspension; however, the Publisher reserves the right to terminate an employee for attendance and performance problems without taking these steps in appropriate cases.”
The Post says this is necessary because managers need more “operational flexibility.” Operational flexibility is Orwellian newspeak that means having the power to dismiss anyone at will. Look around and you see the results of operational flexibility already: the company has cut the workforce of Guild-covered members by nearly one-third since August 2006, from 1,214 employees to 815. There is no evidence that the Post has been unfairly hindered from eliminating staff.
Besides making it easier to dismiss people, the Post also says managers should have no obligation to give prior notice to the Guild of disciplinary actions or bargain with the union over discipline of any member. You’re on your own.
The Post also wants to eliminate important layoff provisions. Under the current contract, if economic conditions force the Post to lay someone off, the Post is also required to reinstate the employee when economic conditions improve. In practice, this has forced the Post to negotiate buyouts.
The Post also wants to weaken the already-limited use of seniority in deciding layoffs. The Guild has proposed preserving the current language that honors some seniority yet gives the Post flexibility to retain valued employees regardless of seniority.
As if it weren’t already clear that the Publisher wants to eliminate the union once and for all, the Post has also proposed inserting a poison pill that would make it even harder for the union to collect dues at the end of the next contract. This provision would also give the Post zero incentive to bargain fairly two years from now when the contract expires.
The Post’s proposal is shocking, particularly since the company has asked everyone to work harder than ever to cover for colleagues whose jobs have already disappeared.
Friends, the time for sitting on the sidelines is past. If you want to work in a place where your job security depends on the whim of a manager or where you could be dismissed because you failed to live up to expectations that were never even outlined – then sit back. You need do nothing at all.
But if you want to work in a place with reasonable job security and protect the Post’s reputation in our community – the Washington community and the journalism community – as an institution with the moral authority to go after bad guys, then you must step up and demand fair treatment from your employer. You need to join the Guild. You need to sign up your friends and prepare for action. You need to join us in fighting for a moral workplace.
Joel Achenbach Freddy Kunkle
Michelle Boorstein Stephen “Rocky” Richardson
Emily Chow Tim Smith
James Crudup Nikita Stewart
Matt DeLong
Pat Jacob
Members of the Guild’s Bargaining Committee
Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild
Local 32035

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  • Robert Knilands

    I agree with all of that, with one caveat. Newspapers are notoriously bad at establishing sensible standards — too much ambiguity, not enough specifics.