The whole of the media industry is in shock as the Washington Post was suddenly sold to Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos, as no one was even aware that the paper was up for sale. But Bezos may be in for a shock himself in the coming year as he sets about to re-invent the paper, as he will have to contend with the newspaper unions.
Bezos did not have to worry about unions as he built his online retail powerhouse; Amazon is union free. In fact, as the Post itself reports, the company is not simply free of unions, but happily free of them.
Only recently has the retailer run into union recalcitrance. Amazon.com is in the midst of dealing with unions in Germany. A recent quote from Amazon’s vice president of worldwide operations and customer service, Dave Clark, shows the unfavorable view the company has for unions.
“Amazon views unions as intermediaries that will want to have a say on everything from employee scheduling to changes in processes for handling and packaging orders,” Clark said. “Amazon prizes its ability to quickly introduce changes like these into its warehouses to improve the experience of its customers.”
But as Bezos takes over the Washington Post, he will not have nearly that same flexibility, as unions are a built-in aspect to the paper’s operation.
The union has already allayed the fears of staff members worried that this sale will impact them negatively.
In a statement, the union assured members that “it appears that the sale will not affect the Post’s relationship with the Guild.”
However, it is important to note that the contract the union had with the paper is already expired, and a new one has not yet been agreed upon between management and union representatives.
As union representative Freddy Knuckle pointed out in his note to members, “The only wild card here is that our two-year contract expired on July 26, and the Post, as allowed by the contract, has given notice that the contract’s provisions will be terminated on Aug. 9. So there is no collective bargaining agreement for the new owners to honor.”
Bezos is taking over a paper without an operating union contract. Politico said the current chiefs of the paper, Don Graham and publisher Katharine Weymouth, have essentially made a confession: “Beats us how to make this business work anymore.”