Daily Kos Guild alleges bad faith in buyout, layoff negotiations

The following is shared on behalf of the Daily Kos Guild, a unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild, NewsGuild-Communication Workers of America Local 39521.

On Jan. 12, 2023, the Daily Kos Guild (DKG) was notified by Daily Kos Management (DKM) that the Company (Daily Kos) was in financial crisis and intended to conduct a 20% staff layoff. You can read more about that event and the ongoing negotiations in our first public statement, Markos’ public response to that statement, and updates posted to our DK Guild Solidarity Group.

A new dispute arose in bargaining on Wednesday, Feb. 22. We’re going to walk through it here.

According to DKM’s response to an information request from DKG, the payroll costs of our 60(ish) represented positions totalled around $6M on Jan. 20, 2023; the payroll costs of management’s 30(ish) positions was reportedly around $8M. DKM reported a shortfall in excess of $3M in 2022, and were able to find $1.6M in “non-people costs” to put toward that balance. The remainder, we have always been told, is “about $2.1 million in people costs.” We entered these negotiations on the understanding that we would need to find our portion of $2.1M in “people costs.” We have reiterated this in every communication with DKM’s counsel. 

Sixteen members of our unit volunteered to leave their jobs to protect those among us who couldn’t afford to be unexpectedly unemployed. DKM asked for and we agreed to a two-week period for considering those requests; instead, the company considered our requests for a few hours on Friday, Feb. 17, and responded to all inquiries within two hours of our deadline—eliminating the two-week consideration window and immediately launching us into the one-week period for negotiating further savings. They insist that our deadline for completing additional cost-savings negotiations is Friday, Feb. 24.

DKM also insists that the total value of our eight accepted voluntary buyouts is $663,625—strictly the wages of our now-departed employees, and a gross underreporting of the Guild’s savings through that measure. The combined total compensation for those employees is being saved—they don’t work here anymore. But DKM insists that the $2.1M shortfall we’ve been told must be corrected with savings from “people costs” can now only be satisfied with savings from “salary costs.” 

This morning, Will Rockafellow, President of Kos Media, issued an announcement to staff explaining the “misunderstanding.”

“The Guild’s interpretation” is information supplied to DKG from DKM, following our info request from Jan. 13, submitted the day after management announced their planned 20% staff layoff:

“The Guild’s interpretation” was further bolstered by an update via email from Will on Jan. 25, where he very helpfully defines “staff costs” for us:

This definition is supported by common use:

This goal was reiterated by DKM’s counsel to our union rep in an email on Feb. 10 as “about $2.1 million in people costs.” This email does not contain the word “salary.” In fact, no document or update from DKM from the time of these negotiations uses the word “salary,” except in the definition above as being one part of “staff costs.”

We were told by DKM to “send a proposal” to meet the remainder of our portion. What we have not been told is: 

1) what our portion of that goal is, as of Feb. 22, since half of “$2.1 million in people costs” apparently isn’t it;

2) the savings achieved through the total compensation of our eight accepted buyouts (though we have a solid estimate);

3) what DKM has done to meet their portion of their goal;

4) why DKM thought, only 48 hours before the deadline they deliberately accelerated by two weeks, it was time to tell the Guild that all non-salary measures are off the table, while also encouraging us to sacrifice additional non-salary compensation. 

We will not continue cutting members from our unit or asking our members to cut their own benefits without assurance that those savings will count toward our still-unstated goal. The savings we’ve already voluntarily realized—actual dollars this company will no longer spend—do not.

These are not good faith negotiations. The goalposts have clearly moved, our savings so far are being underrepresented, and DKM is rushing us to accommodate these mid-stream changes by tomorrow. 

We do understand that DKM’s counsel is sorry for “the misunderstanding,” and we understand that Will is probably not thrilled, either. We appreciate the email. 

For our part, the DKG is sorry that we have now lost eight members of our union group—who sacrificed their jobs under an agreement that is now in question—and any assurance we had that Daily Kos Management intends to conduct these negotiations in good faith toward a resolution that avoids involuntary layoffs. 

Our faith that this $2.1M figure was presented as a measure of total compensation, or “people costs,” until Feb. 22 remains unwavering. 

We will not agree to further cuts to our unionized staff to accommodate more than our share of this crisis. It is DKM’s turn to find any portion of the millions they need to save on “people costs,” and to communicate that plan to DKG so we can continue putting Daily Kos back on the financial rails. When we have a numerical goal for total compensation savings that does not exceed 50% of the total savings goal, a deadline that isn’t tomorrow, and some reassurance that Kos Media isn’t going to conduct layoffs before these negotiations are complete, we’ll come back to the table. 

Today, the Guild issued to Kos Media a cease and desist for breaching agreement and bad faith bargaining. For now, we’re waiting for their response. If that doesn’t arrive in a timely fashion, the Daily Kos Guild will pursue all legal recourse available to us.

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Hunter Paniagua

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