Monday, April 13, 2009

Washington Post Steps Up Anti-Union Campaign

The Washington Post Company, long an opponent of unions in both its editorials and its business operations, is accelerating its campaign against labor. In the last few months, it has emerged as arguably the biggest promulgator of anti-union sentiment in the Metropolitan Washington region.

In four successive editorials, the Post has ramped up its criticism of Montgomery County labor unions. First, the Post attacked the Fire Fighters in February for seeking to give salary concessions in the form of deferred pay rather than COLA eliminations, calling them the “worst offender” among the unions. The Post failed to mention that the Fire Fighters’ deal had been negotiated with officials on the Leggett administration’s management team. Next, the Post editorialized on the county’s disability program twice, characterizing the desire of some to negotiate it through collective bargaining as a “ruse” and painting the issue as “a window into the sway that unions exert over county politicians and the lengths to which some council members will go to protect them.” Yet the Post’s own reporting shows that some of the most suspect cases have involved police managers (such as former Assistant Chief John King), not just the rank-and-file. Finally, in its endorsement of Ben Kramer for the District 4 County Council seat, the Post said this:

We supported Ms. Navarro in last year's special election, impressed with her ability to avoid petty politics to produce results on the school board. Ms. Navarro has continued to be an effective board member, taking a leading role in persuading school unions to forfeit some of their pay increases. Yet Ms. Navarro has been less willing than Mr. Kramer to criticize labor, and it’s hard to imagine her standing up to the union leaders who hold excessive sway over the council. Mr. Kramer has been endorsed by the firefighters union, but that has to do with his support for public safety.
What happened to the Fire Fighters being the “worst offender” of the unions?

The Post’s repeated references to “excessive sway” by the unions do not conform to recent history. First, every union save one has given up its cost-of-living increase in Fiscal Year 2010. The only one that has not – the career Fire Fighters – is now apparently forgiven by the Post because they support the Post’s preferred County Council candidate. Second, the decision by the county’s Labor Relations Administrator that the County Executive is not required to fund union contracts in his proposed budget is a heavy blow to labor that the Post ignores. Third, the county’s public employee unions will certainly be subject to furloughs and perhaps the loss of step increases, again a fact that the Post ignores. If the unions were as powerful as the Post believes, none of this would be happening.

But the Post cannot be regarded as an impartial commentator. It is above all a business, one that has had rocky relationships with its own workforce for many years. The Post’s history of union-busting goes back almost four decades and required an entire blog post to recount. The Washington Post Company currently has expired labor agreements with eight (!) different bargaining units covering more than 600 workers. Its 435 production workers have had no contract since 5/18/03 and have launched a publicity campaign against the company. (No wonder the Post sees collective bargaining as a “ruse.”) The Post’s non-union Gazette subsidiary pays its reporters starvation wages and avoids paying overtime. After we exposed the Gazette’s exploitative labor practices last fall, Gazette management went on a witch hunt for our sources. They never found them. Finally, despite the fact that the Post lost $439 million last year and has had to implement multiple workforce reductions, its top four continuing officers still collected a combined $7,053,662 in compensation – up from $4,678,956 in 2007. That’s right, the Post relentlessly bashes Montgomery County unions over their now-departed raises while giving its executive team a 50.8% RAISE IN ONE YEAR.

Simply put, the Post editorial page cannot be trusted as a source of opinion on any county labor issues. For a long time, management policy inside the Washington Post Company has been to harass its existing unions into oblivion and prevent any more from forming. Now the Post seems intent on spreading that philosophy out into Montgomery County as a whole.

Disclosure: The author is the Assistant to the General President of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and has been employed in the labor movement since 1994.