Did WaPo Break The Law When It Disciplined A Writer For This Negative Article On Jeff Bezos?
We’ve recently found ourselves frequently noting a rather bizarre new trend in which the mainstream media and liberal Washington D.C. establishment has turned its back on the Silicon Valley elites. Just last week, even Hillary Clinton called out Facebook for allowing someone who may have been Russian buy a staggering $50,000 worth of political ads on their site…hopefully we don’t have to explain the irony of that statement given that Facebook execs gave millions to Hillary’s campaign.
But, just a word to the wise, if you’re a writer and have intentions of joining in on the recent wave of tech titan bashing, you may want to first make sure your paper isn’t owned by the same tech titan who has wandered into your crosshairs. Unfortunately, Fredrick Kunkle of the Washington Post didn’t heed that advice when he published a scathing op-ed about Jeff Bezos in the Huffington Post. Here’s a taste of what he had to say:
One of the wealthiest men in the world is thinking of ways to give back. But he’s still taking from the very people who helped him build his fortune.
But as Bezos, whose worth now exceeds $80 billion, loosens his pockets, it’s important to put his charitable giving — and the philanthropy of the super-rich — into perspective: Many people worked hard for Bezos to help make him so rich, and he has a record of treating them poorly.
Amazon’s history of dodging taxes, its mistreatment of workers, and its ruthlessness toward even the smallest competitors have been well documented. It put ambulances outside distribution centers rather than install adequate air conditioning. It broke up a union organizing effort by closing the call center and dismissing everyone who worked there. The New York Times documented its punishing work environment in a front-page exposé. The company’s actions, as Forbes put it, hark back to an earlier time when workers were treated as “replaceable cogs in the machine.”
Everyone at the Post wants it to succeed and prosper. But we want our employees to succeed and prosper, too.
Two years ago, however, Bezos slashed retirement benefits. For reasons that remain unclear, he froze a pension plan that was awash in so much money that neither he nor the company would possibly have faced additional liabilities. He also spurned the sort of compromise plan The New York Times Co. had pioneered ? an adjustable pension plan that would have ensured the Post would never encounter a problem funding it. In essence, this innovative approach, developed by the financial services firm Cheiron, would have mitigated the company’s risks by sharing them with employees and continued to grow their annual retirement benefit.
Bezos’ decision on retirement benefits had nothing to do with the balance sheet and, arguably, everything to do with ideology. And it almost overshadowed Bezos’ demand for the right to cancel everyone’s health insurance and his push to take it away from part-time employees.
Not surprisingly, Kunkle’s efforts earned him this sternly-worded warning from Wapo’s Director of Labor Relations for his “willful and intentional violation of
The Washington Post’s standards and ethics policy.” Of course, we wouldn’t be surprised if this letter turns out to be just a prelude to Kunkle’s eventual dismissal…somehow we suspect his ‘performance reviews’ are about to become a bit more critical.
But, as it turns out, punishing writers for “publicizing a dispute with management” might just violate union rules and has earned Wapo an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board.
In response to the Post’s warning, the Washington-Baltimore News Guild, which represents the paper’s editorial staff, filed on Tuesday what is known as an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, accusing the Post of violating Kunkle’s legally protected right to engage in “concerted activities” to further the union’s interests. The National Labor Relations Act bars employers from interfering in worker activities that advance their welfare, which typically include a worker’s right to publicly criticize an employer about a work-related matter.
“If you’re a Guild officer and Freddy is, he has a legal right to publicize a dispute with management,” said Rick Ehrmann, the Guild representative for the Post newsroom. “It doesn’t matter what the outlet is.”
Kunkle, who writes the Post’s “Tripping” blog about transportation in the Washington, D.C. area, pitched the Post’s opinion section at the end of August on an op-ed challenging Bezos’ rollback of employee retirement benefits and planned overhaul of the company’s severance policy, according to his account of events.
When the newspaper rejected it, in his telling, Kunkle decided to publish it at HuffPost, informing Washington Post Editor-in-Chief Marty Baron of his plans. (In the interest of full disclosure, I am a member of the labor-management committee at HuffPost, which is represented by the Writer’s Guild of America, East.)
That said, while Kunkle’s NLRB filing is ‘cute’, somehow we suspect it’s only a matter of time before he learns the true cost of defying a mainstream media outlet’s official list of pre-approved narratives.