Reporters and other staff at the Washington Post are frustrated with what they describe as an unjustified, hardline stance in negotiations with management over their employment contracts and other workplace issues, including the Post’s alleged refusal to address a gender and race-based pay gap.
The two union co-chairs and several reporters who are union members told Bloomberg Law that they’ve asked for the Post to provide more employee information and to work with them on a study to analyze possible pay disparities. Management has so far refused those requests, they said.
The Washington Post declined Bloomberg Law’s requests for comment.
“How bad does it look if a bastion of liberalism was underpaying women by something like 15% for doing the same job? That’s embarrassing, not to mention costly for the owner,” Aileen Gallagher, a former editor at New York Magazine and professor at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications, told Bloomberg Law.
The Post Guild represents both commercial and editorial employees, including roughly 52 percent of the newsroom. The union is an affiliate of the Communications Workers of America, which also represents workers at Bloomberg Law.
Pay Gap Is Complex Issue
Lisa Brauner, an employer-side attorney for Perlman and Perlman LLP, noted some business reasons for some companies’ reluctance to conduct a pay disparity analysis.
Brauner said she isn’t involved in or knowledgeable of the Post’s current negotiations, nor of the company’s response to union requests on the analysis.
Aside from costs and potential negative publicity “there could be a number of factors that might impact why a company would not undertake such an analysis, including the fact that disparities on the numbers alone may not give a full picture of the reasons for those disparities,” Brauner said in an e-mail.
There are “differences in skill set, experience level, what was negotiated, the economy at the time of hire (supply vs. demand), geographical differences (cost of living), high demand for a particular person or skill set,” as possible dynamics that might explain an apparent pay gap, she said.
There are also cost factors. “People who run giant corporations won’t spend a ton of money if they can find a way not to,” Gallagher said.
The union has complained about the companies alleged hard line positions in bargaining, pointing to the company’s reported profitability over at least the last three years.
“Labor is a huge expense,” Gallagher said. “The Post is a privately held company so they’re not reporting their margins but you can bet they’re pretty thin because all media companies’ margins are pretty thin these days.”
It wouldn’t be unusual for the company to consider maintaining current salaries and keeping them low in order to continue it’s recent growth, Gallagher said. “Pay equity is a significant investment,” she said.
Union: Post Addresses Diversity, Not Pay Gap
Wesley Lowery, a Pulitzer Prize-winning law enforcement, race and justice reporter and union member, told Bloomberg Law that the Post has done a “great job with diversity” in hiring.
“Younger employees happen to be mostly women and minorities” and “the Post deserves real credit for that,” Lowery said. “But if you can’t retain those people you’re going to keep perpetuating these problems with diversity, and transparency is one of the biggest tools to help create equity.”
“It’s worth noting that unions are supposed to eliminate these kind of pay gaps,” Gallagher said.
Post employees did a “preliminary” salary analysis with outside consultants in 2016, according to Amanda Erickson, a foreign affairs reporter who helped lead the effort.
They found that white male reporters out-earn all their counterparts by an average of 20 percent.
The study “seemed to demonstrate very conclusively that there is a racial pay gap and gender pay gap, and the response from Post management was ‘no there’s not,’” religion reporter Julie Zauzmer said.
“They essentially said ‘it doesn’t exist, you guys have exaggerated it,’” Kunkle added. “This is the only major company among its peers that’s denied there’s any gender or race disparity.”
Post management said the methodology was flawed, pointing out that it didn’t consider factors like experience, the reporters said.
Brauner wasn’t aware of the union study or the Post management’s response. She said, however, that businesses generally may see more scrutiny of their pay practices.
With the “momentum of more and more jurisdictions passing gender pay equity laws and salary history bans coupled with employees’ greater awareness of their rights to stand up for equal pay, I would say “#time’s up” for employers that refuse to address gender pay disparities in their workplaces if they exist,” Brauner said.
Employers who have the will to address a pay gap issue should be given opportunities to self-audit and correct them, she said.
Greater Transparency at Other Papers?
But Post employees say the company has not expressed a desire to address the issue. “They’re just not interested,” Kunkle said.
The Los Angeles Times union conducted a study that revealed striking and persistent pay gaps, and the Wall Street Journal has publicly acknowledged pay disparity in its newsroom and committed to address the issue.
Unions representing journalists and other workers at The Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com also conducted their own analyses from 2016 to 2018, Bill Ross, News Guild Local 10 executive director, told Bloomberg Law. Results and a series of recommendations from those studies were shared with management, and the pay gap narrowed a bit in a subsequent survey, Ross said.
Post reporters say the company could provide more specific information that would produce definitive answers regarding a pay gap. The newspaper hasn’t provided employees’ years of birth, or things like their length of service at the Post as opposed to their career as a journalist, union members said.
“There’s a good chance the data either validates what the Guild is saying or is even worse, and the Post wouldn’t want that out because they could lose leverage in the negotiations,” Gallagher said.
Union members told Bloomberg Law the issue is about basic fairness.
“When people don’t know what their colleagues and peers are making—in general terms—it makes it impossible to accurately evaluate their own worth, which makes it impossible to advocate on their own behalf,” Lowery said.
He added that a number of talented colleagues have left the Post since he started there, but cautioned that he doesn’t foresee reporters leaving en masse anytime soon. Other union members stressed that the union hasn’t contemplated a strike at all.
“I don’t think the Washington Post wants to find itself in a situation where it has to rebuild it’s newsroom every 5 years because the talented people it brings in depart to go elsewhere,” Lowery said.
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(Updated to reflect that Brauner is not personally involved in the labor dispute)