One year ago this week, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos formally assumed ownership of the Washington Post, two months after publisher Katharine Weymouth announced Bezos' $250 million purchase of the paper and generated no shortage of speculation about what a Seattle-based tech magnate had planned for an established institution whose identity was firmly rooted in the Beltway.
Post employees are finding out. Bezos -- who has suppressed Amazon workers' efforts to unionize -- has taken his anti-labor zeal to the Post, whose employees are represented by Local 32035 of the Newspaper Guild. With the union's contract set to expire on October 31, Bezos is pushing hard to freeze pensions and cut other benefits, the Washingtonian reports:
The Post, now a year into the Bezos era, wants to freeze its unionized workers’ pension plan and introduce a cash-balance model, which provides a lump sum or annuity on retirement, rather than the traditional plan which guarantees benefits regardless of market conditions. The switch only affects people hired before September 2009; newer employees will be given 401(k) retirement plans and supplemental savings accounts.
Bezos’s side also proposes cutting severance benefits in half from two weeks’ pay for every year saved to just one. A flier printed by Local 32035, the union representing Post employees, suggests that employees could be let go with even less if Bezos’s proposals go through. “[The] Post thinks that an employee who served two years—doing things such as covering a hurricane, or delivering newspapers in a hurricane—should be okay with two weeks’ pay,” the flier reads. “Oh, and cake."
On Thursday, Post employees demonstrated against the proposals outside the newspaper's downtown Washington headquarters, with signs denouncing "Bezo$" and "Another Wall Street Smash and Grab." Local columnist John Kelly, the Washingtonian's Benjamin Freed writes, led chants urging "Post employees unite and fight! Make Jeff Bezos do what’s right!”
Staff writer Frederick Kunkle, meanwhile, told Freed that Bezos' proposals resemble "what Walmart has done."
“We’re saying no, the Post should not be like that," Kunkle said.
The fight comes amid other signs that Bezos -- a dyed-in-the-wool libertarian -- is nudging the paper further to the right. In January, the Post acquired the libertarian Volokh Conspiracy blog, a move that earned plaudits from many conservatives. And last month, the Post announced that Weymouth would be replaced as publisher by Frederick J. Ryan, the founding CEO and president of Politico and a longtime aide to Ronald Reagan.