Washington Post reporter Lydia DePillis’ recent Facebook post about why she joined the Newspaper Guild should be required reading for every union grappling with the challenge of “free riders,” or workers who are represented by a union but don’t have to join. “I felt no strong motivation to join,” writes DePillis. “Like many in my generation, my parents weren’t in unions, so I had little personal contact with them. Like many young journalists in particular, I feel downright lucky to have a job at all, and no right to demand anything more. Plus, I wasn’t sure whether the Guild was actually looking out for the things I really care about.” But then, she says, “a few things happened.” Click below to read more...
First, the Guild went into bargaining for the first time under new owner Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO. “Despite his billions, and the hiring spree the paper’s been on since he bought the paper, the negotiators' proposals were even more harsh than they had been in previous years,” DePillis says. “Suddenly, management seemed like something that needed to be defended against.” Then, in her job as the Post’s labor reporter, “writing about people who are fighting hard for the right to join a union at all…I gained a greater appreciation for the history of worker organizing, and how collective bargaining has kept so many people in the middle class — less and less so now, as labor’s strongest industries declined. I started feeling hypocritical, illuminating the benefits of unions while making the personal choice not to support one in my own workplace.” Finally, DePillis talked to people, “sometimes in unexpected places, who pushed me the rest of the way there.” Like the colleague at another Guild-represented paper who was unhappy with the union, and stepped up “to become a rep instead of whining about it.” Or veteran New York Times reporter Steven Greenhouse who told her about how, “after many years on the sidelines, he got active in the union when management put forward a particularly draconian proposal in bargaining. When the rank and file organized and protested, the Sulzbergers backed off.” When DePillis turned in her union card, “I felt suddenly unburdened, and more a part of the place where I work. And I expect being a union member will make me a better labor reporter, as well. It always helps to understand an institution from the inside — both its virtues and its flaws.” photo: Newspaper Guild contract picket at the Post 11/19/2014; photo by Chris Garlock/Union City