By David Dayen
In These Times (9/18/18)
Fredrick Kunkle was upset. A staff writer for the Washington Post’s Metro desk, he noticed Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the owner of his newspaper, musing on Twitter about what to do with his money, which happens to be more than any human being has ever accumulated in modern history. Kunkle had an idea for the funds: reversing the hits Bezos had forced upon Post workers in successive contract negotiations.
The co-chair of the Washington-Baltimore News Guild’s collective bargaining unit at the paper, Kunkle witnessed in 2014 Bezos’ management team freeze defined-benefit pensions for non-union employees, replacing them with a lump sum or annuity for older workers, and a 401(k) plan for newer ones. Management also tried to eliminate health insurance from part-time employees, which the union managed to salvage by giving back wages. When the next contract came up in 2017, management sought to slash severance in half, while also conditioning the payments on a legal waiver from any lawsuit against the Post, a company that had recently settled a case of alleged racial discrimination.
“What I hope for more is a sign that Jeff Bezos might wake up to the idea one of these days that he owes more to society and his employees than the minimum he can get away with.”
In other words, while Bezos had made significant investments to revive the Post, he was stripping benefits from its workers and treating them as easily expendable, matching his storied mistreatment of workers at Amazon.
Kunkle had never shied away from media attention and speaking out against Bezos’ hardline tactics. So he used his talents to pen an op-ed, contrasting Bezos’ attempts to focus on philanthropy with the experience of those working beneath him.
Someone else’s problem
“It should go without saying that charitable giving for medical research and other worthy causes is important and necessary,” Kunkle wrote. “But as with other multi-billionaires, Bezos should remember that his vast wealth came in part from labor, and he should do more to share that wealth with workers. Instead, Bezos has shown that he views his employees as parts in a high-tech machine, that income inequality is someone else’s problem, and that modern corporations owe little more to their employees than a paycheck.”
Kunkle first offered the article to the Post, but they declined; eventually Kunkle published it for free in the Huffington Post in September 2017. But shortly afterwards, Kunkle was given a written warning by the paper for “freelancing for a competing publication without permission.”
This disciplining was illegal, according to a memo from the Office of General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) released last Friday. While the memo stated that it was legal for the Post to restrict its staff writers from publishing in other outlets, because Kunkle wasn’t paid for the HuffPost op-ed, he was engaging in protected labor activity by highlighting Bezos’ actions against Post workers. …