Hundreds of Washington Post staffers staged a historic one-day workout, leaving the paper scrambling to cover the news

Washington Post staff walk a picket line at the start of a 24-hour strike amid prolonged contract talks outside The Washington Post building in Washington, U.S., December 7, 2023.

Washington Post staff walk a picket line at the start of a 24-hour strike amid prolonged contract talks outside The Washington Post building in Washington, U.S., December 7, 2023.Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

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“By Washington Post Staff.”

That was the byline affixed to the vast majority of The WaPo’s stories Thursday as the newspaper’s unionized employees staged a full-day strike against the Jeff Bezos-owned outlet — an act of protest not deployed against the company since the 1970s.

As the public got a glimpse of a world without The WaPo’s army of journalists, inside the newspaper’s offices editors published stories under the incognito byline, aiming to keep some news flowing to the outlet’s millions of paying subscribers. It wasn’t easy. The protest left The WaPo depleted of large swaths of its staff on several major desks. Suffice to say, the walkout was an inconvenience to management, a move that underscored to the powers at be the important role its journalists fulfill each day.

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With the work stoppage, which expired at 12:01am ET Friday, staffers sought to apply additional pressure on management as they seek a new contract after 18 long months of negotiations. Demonstrators were also protesting the recently announced 10% workforce reduction.

Instead of filing stories, members of The Washington Post Guild spent the day picketing in the December cold. Outside the newspaper’s Washington, D.C., headquarters, demonstrators chanted slogans, sung pro-union songs, and carried signs that demanded a “FAIR CONTRACT NOW.” The union estimated that more than 700 staffers participated in the act of rebellion and that roughly 400 staffers came out for the physical demonstration, which included a rally from 12 to 2pm.

The Guild, which asked readers not to engage with The WaPo’s content to show solidarity, saw some support from President Joe Biden. I’m told that the White House, Biden campaign, and Democratic National Committee all refrained from engaging with the outlet and elevating any of its content.

While the union has been negotiating with executives for a year and a half on a new contract, it has yet to get close to arriving at an agreement. Wages, in particular, remain a major sticking point between the two sides. Executives have proposed a 2.25% pay increase, but union members have countered that it’s far too low after recent inflation pressures. The drawn out pace of negotiations has also not helped, causing dismay and frustration among members with management over the process.

Unfortunately for members of The Guild, the labor dispute comes as The WaPo struggles financially, with the paper on track to lose $100 million this year. To that end, The WaPo’s management team has moved to cut costs, announcing in October that it aims to slash its workforce through voluntary buyouts. Staffers at The WaPo have balked at the need for cuts, often pointing out that the newspaper is owned by Bezos, one of the richest men in the world. For his part, Bezos has stressed that he wants The WaPo to be financially solvent.

Patty Stonesifer, The WaPo’s interim chief executive, disclosed to employees when announcing the buyouts that the company had “overshot on expenses” under previous boss Fred Ryan and that management needed to “right size” the business. Last week, Stonesifer warned employees that if 240 people do not volunteer for the buyout offer, layoffs would ensue. Stonesifer said in a meeting this week that 175 employees had so far taken the buyout offers ahead of next week’s deadline.

It’s not clear when such cuts would be made, if ultimately necessary. It’s hard to see The WaPo laying off employees just days before the Christmas holiday. But if the outlet does not reach the 240 buyout threshold, management has been clear that cuts will take place. Would they be carried out in the new year?

If so, that would mean that newly announced publisher and chief executive, William Lewis, who is set to start on January 2, would be forced to oversee cuts in his very first days. It would be a terrible way to start his tenure at The WaPo. But if cuts are ultimately required, and they don’t happen in the days preceding the holiday break, he may not have a choice.

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