The Open Shop Blues

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If you can’t work up any outrage at being ripped off by the richest man in America, how do you ever expect to win anything?

Jeff Bezos is personally worth $140 billion. Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post. He bought the Post for $250 million, which, if you have a net worth of $50,000, is the equivalent of you buying something for less than $100. It is a cheap trinket to him.

For more than a year, the Washington Post’s union has been trying to bargain a new contract for the paper’s staff. For reasons that defy logic, the company has been extremely parsimonious and unwilling to give concessions, even as the paper itself flourishes in the age of Trump.


This weekend, the union sent a memo (posted below) to members saying they have reached a tentative agreement with the company on a two year contract. But they also said, “There is little to celebrate.” The agreement includes paltry $15 a week pay increases—and, on the even more negative side, no increase in paid parental leave from a mere four weeks; cuts in overtime payments; a pathetic 1% 401(k) match; and worse job security and severance pay than before. Ideally—particularly when the economy is as strong as it is now—each new union contract should secure actual new gains. For the hundreds of union members who create the Post, this proposed contract is instead a step backwards. Still, the union’s memo to staffers says “we strongly urge you to vote in favor of ratifying this contract,” lest the company withdraw even these insulting terms and try to assert something worse.

For decades, the Washington Post has been an “open shop,” meaning that joining the union is voluntary rather than mandatory. As a result, the entire staff is not required to be members of the union (although the union still bargains for everyone), and the union is therefore weaker. Cet Parks, the head of the Washington-Baltimore News Guild, says that “Our assessment is we didn’t think we can pull off a successful strike or strike type action,” and therefore they are urging acceptance of this contract offer, even though it is, objectively, bad.


To the half or more of Washington Post staffers who have voluntarily chosen not to be members of their own union: Look in the mirror. Staring back at you is a person who is getting fucked by one of the richest men in the world. Jeff Bezos’ home in your city is a 27,000 square foot mansion with 25 bathrooms, yet he refuses to offer you a raise of more than $15 a week. Jeff Bezos has more money than ten profligate movie stars could spend in ten lifetimes, but he refuses to give you a 401(k) match that is in line with any decent professional workplace. You work at a prestigious news outlet bursting with professionalism and ostentatious pride, yet you acquiesce to having your face stepped on by a man who could easily write a check to give you everything you ask for and never miss that tiny bit of money for a single moment.

The entire U.S. media is in the midst of a multi-year unionization wave. Standards for pay and working conditions are rising across the entire industry, thanks to strong unions full of thousands of energetic, committed, and mobilized members demanding a fair deal, and willing to fight for it. Wanna help us out? You, the Washington Post staffers who are not even paying members of your own fucking union, are fucking it up. You are fucking it up for yourself and for your union coworkers who expended the effort to fight for you and for the rest of us who are trying to make an entire industry a better place to work. Because you are too lazy to join your own union and help it fight for a fair contract for your own damn self, your union is too weak to effectively fight the company, and you are getting a shitty contract. Your counterparts across the industry—not just at newspapers like the New York Times, but at online media shops like GMG—are getting substantially better contracts than you. If your union cannot mobilize everyone to threaten to walk out or strike over an insulting proposal like this, you will always be weak, and you will always lose to the richest man in America, which is preposterous. The reason your union cannot mobilize to strike is because a huge portion of the staff the union represents cannot be bothered to even be in the fucking union. And so the richest man in America can laugh and offer you a bad deal and you are forced to take it. If you are not an active member of the union, you are helping Jeff Bezos screw you and all of your coworkers. Congrats.


Unless it is mandated by law, never, ever let your union be an open shop. It’s an axe in the back of your power. And even if are forced to work in an open shop: join the fucking union. If you don’t, you are insulting everyone. Including yourself.