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Washington Post staffers walk off the job in 24-hour strike

By Nicholas ROLL / AFP Published Dec 08, 2023 4:41 pm

Hundreds of staff at The Washington Post, one of America's most storied newspapers, walked off the job Thursday, Dec. 7 in a 24-hour strike after 18 months of contract negotiations failed to secure a deal.

Chanting "Fair pay now" and raising signs reading "Show us the $$$$," staff and supporters protested outside the paper's downtown Washington offices as the Post Guild estimated 750 people would be engaging in the work stoppage.

The strike comes amid a tumultuous US media landscape, which has not spared the national daily, owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos—one of the world's richest men, whose e-commerce giant has aggressively pushed back against unionization efforts there.

The media industry saw some 17,500 job cuts in the first half of 2023 alone, according to Challenger, Gray, and Christmas, a human resources consultancy. Over the past two decades, as the internet has eaten into traditional advertising revenue, some 2,500 newspapers have shuttered altogether.

At the same time, outlets like The New York Times—a Post competitor—have prospered, with the Times recently hitting 10 million subscribers as it expanded into offering cooking recipes and games, as well as acquiring sports outlet The Athletic.

The Post strike comes after failed talks to reach a new deal over pay, remote work, and other conditions. Layoffs last year as well as hiring freezes are also affecting work conditions and morale, said Katie Mettler, a local reporter and union co-chair.

Employees of the Washington Post, joined by supporters, walk the picket line during a 24 hour strike, outside of Washington Post headquarters in Washington, DC.

The Times reported earlier this year that the Post was on track to lose about $100 million this year, which the union has blamed on poor management.

"The company has tried to balance its books by laying off nearly 40 people in the last year," the union said in a letter announcing the strike. Some 240 voluntary buyouts were offered this fall, and the paper "has threatened that if they don't get enough people to leave, more layoffs will be next."

"We're not asking for charity," Mettler told AFP, adding that "we can't become profitable again if our employees leave... because this institution isn't paying us wages that keep up with inflation."

Strikes across US

A company spokesperson said the paper's goal "remains the same as it has from the start of our negotiations: to reach an agreement with the Guild that meets the needs of our employees and the needs of our business."

Media reports indicate that since reaching a high of three million subscribers during the frenzied years of Donald Trump's presidency, Post subscriptions have since dropped to 2.5 million. 

The Post Guild has also accused the company of "refusing to bargain in good faith" and "breaking the law."

"It's frustrating to have worked for 18 months for a contract and to still not have one," striking reporter Jeanne Whalen told AFP.

The strike comes at a moment of resurgent US union activity and amid a tight labor marke—with everyone from Hollywood writers and actors to auto workers to baristas taking their grievances to the picket line in recent months.

The labor action at the Post follows a strike earlier this year at America's largest newspaper publisher, Gannett, and a 24-hour action by New York Times staff a year ago.

Workers at The Associated Press staged a "short break" last month over their lack of contract. Their guild has rejected a 2% raise offered by management. (AFP)