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Post Targeted by Ad Campaign

By Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 3, 2008

The union representing about 400 post-production workers at The Washington Post launched a month-long advertising campaign against the company this week, seeking to jump-start stalled contract talks and get its members their first raise in five years.

The campaign includes radio and television ads and billboards on buses and at the Metro Center and Farragut North Metro stations. Some of the print ads use the names of the newspaper's sections to help get their point across. For example: "Some employees are going on five years without a raise. Is kicking workers around a SPORT at the Post?" "OUTLOOK not good for Post workers looking for fair wages."

The union also created the Web site http://WashingtonPostUnfair.com to outline its complaints.

"All we want is a fair contract," said Hunter Phillips, the administrative director and lead negotiator for the District-based Communications Workers of America, which represents the workers in what is known as the mailroom. "We want The Post to sit down with us and bargain in good faith, which we don't believe they have done. They have pretty much given us a take-it-or-leave-it offer."

Phillips said the contract negotiations, which began in early 2004, have stalled because The Post is insisting on contract language to withdraw from the union's pension plan.

A spokesman for The Post said the company has worked hard to reach a new contract with the CWA.

"The Post offered the union, over three years ago, a comprehensive contract proposal that included wage increases for all mailroom employees and more secure retirement alternatives to a union pension plan that in recent years has been underfunded and has reduced members' future benefits," said Rima Calderon, The Post Co.'s senior director for communications.

"The union has chosen a public relations campaign rather than negotiations at the bargaining table to address the pension issue, which has prevented mailroom employees from receiving wage increases and better retirement security," Calderon added.

Phillips declined to say how much the union was spending on the campaign, but he said contributions were coming in from locals around the country. The CWA has about 750,000 members nationwide. According to a CWA news release, The Post reported a profit of $324.5 million in 2006 and "handed out millions in executive compensation. Despite this, our workers continue to receive nothing. No raises. No parity. No help on health care."

Calderon said the $324.5 million represents profit for the entire Washington Post Co. The newspaper division, where the production employees work, was responsible for $63.4 million of that amount.

Production workers are primarily nighttime employees who bag and help sort newspapers into bundles and load them onto trucks for distribution. The CWA said its mailroom workers at The Post have not had a pay increase since May 2002 and currently earn $12.71 to $26.15 per hour.

About half of the production workers are full-time and the rest are part-time, Phillips said.

The newspaper is the flagship of The Washington Post Co., which Chairman Donald E. Graham recently rebranded as an "education and media company" to reflect the rise of Kaplan Inc. within the company and the decline of the newspaper.

In recent years, The Post has lost subscribers and revenue as readers have turned to other media -- chiefly, the Internet -- for news and information. Advertisers have followed. Though http://washingtonpost.com ranks among the most popular news sites and is profitable, it generates about one-fifth of the ad revenue of the newspaper.

The newspaper's average daily circulation peaked at 832,232 in 1993. It now sells an average of 638,800 papers Monday through Saturday. Operating income for the company's newspaper division, primarily The Post, plummeted 50 percent during the third quarter of 2007, compared with the third quarter of 2006. The paper's income has been ravaged by a sharp drop in real estate advertising and the continued defection of classified and employment advertising to the Internet.

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