Daily Kos Guild passes vote of no confidence in Will Rockafellow, President of Kos Media

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.

Daily Kos Guild passes vote of no confidence in Will Rockafellow, President of Kos Media

In January 2023, Daily Kos Management (DKM)—under the leadership of Will Rockafellow—projected that without layoffs, Daily Kos would have only enough funding to continue operating for six more months. Ultimately, Daily Kos management made the strategic decisions that put the company in the red. The responsibility for Daily Kos’ catastrophic financial situation, and the anti-worker choices made in response to it, lie solely at their feet. 

These are the first layoffs in Daily Kos’ 20-year history. In the past week, Daily Kos lost a total of 17 employees—three from management, 14 from our unionized staff—a 20% reduction in staff size. For months leading up to the announcement of layoffs, employees experienced a total lack of transparency, communication, and consideration for Daily Kos’ organizational mission and our livelihoods. Yet, as Markos noted in his first public statement, management saw this coming a year ago. Their willful disregard for the obligation to deal fairly with DKG staff continued as we saw our members laid off last week from Daily Kos under unconscionable circumstances.

The last day of February was the official termination date for our involuntarily laid-off staff. Adding insult to injury, when employees are terminated on the last day of the month, rather than on the first, their health care coverage ends immediately.

Over the last few days, not only have our remaining members been reckoning with the unnecessarily cruel way these layoffs were approached, we have also been mourning the loss of our coworkers and friends and working to ensure that members who were laid off have the resources they need to land safely in their next jobs. All this, while having to put in longer hours in our roles at Daily Kos to cover for team members who were let go.

On Jan. 12, in his announcement about impending layoffs, Will wrote: “I take responsibility and apologize.” We’re waiting to see what that responsibility entails. Our members paid for Will Rockafellow’s incompetence with their livelihoods. All we have seen to date is this claim of responsibility, but no record of the impact on Will’s livelihood. He claims responsibility without offering accountability. No matter how you look at it, this is not the face of humane, empathetic, progressive leadership.

Will Rockafellow, we have no confidence in you as President of this company. 

Will Rockafellow never attended a bargaining session until an emergency session was called on Feb. 24 between our Pacific Media Workers Guild attorney and representatives and DKM’s bargaining team. In fact, aside from announcing a 20% staff layoff that violated our Guild members’ status quo protections, Will has only sporadically communicated with the Guild, and only indirectly at that, through two members of the People Operations team and the company’s attorney. 

We need a leader willing to roll up their sleeves and figure our future out together—as equal partners in pursuit of our shared goals, and standard-bearers of our shared ideals—not one who hides behind Human Resources staff when faced with difficult decisions. Guild staff worked tirelessly to brainstorm viable ways to improve the company’s financial footing without resorting to layoffs. In the end, we offered Daily Kos management multiple plans that reduced harm to employees, protected marginalized members, and ensured the company’s financial security. They rejected every single one.

Will Rockafellow has hidden behind intermediaries and one-way communication channels. His job performance thus far has been unacceptable.

A president who will not meet us face-to-face at the table, communicate honestly, hold himself accountable for his mistakes, or fight with us to save our jobs and this organization, is a president who is not doing his job.

For these reasons, the DKG held a vote of no confidence in Will Rockafellow. Voting was open to card-signing members of the Daily Kos Guild, including those whose unit status is disputed by management; we had over 90% participation. The vote easily passed, with 80.9% of respondents affirming their lack of confidence in Will Rockafellow’s ability to manage the finances and future of Daily Kos.

We held this vote weeks before the targeted gutting of our union group and further union-busting actions from DKM the weekend of Feb. 25-27. Our members’ disappointment is both palpable and warranted. None of us applied to work for union-busters, and we will always call out anti-worker action when we see it.

Let’s be clear: We want this organization to do well; we want to be here to do this work. But even fewer of us are now part of Daily Kos’ future; DKM has squandered a golden opportunity to demonstrate how progressive organizations can work collaboratively with their unionized staff to solve problems. 

There is no progress without fundamental change for American workers. We can and must make Daily Kos a model pro-labor organization—by coming together, working together, and building a solid future together. Our donors, readers, partners, and endorsed candidates deserve it, too. We know we can make that happen.

But we are facing a challenge. Will Rockafellow, self-professed owner of this financial crisis, and absent party to our layoff negotiations, is here to stay—no matter how many of our unionized staff have departed. After laying off 17 employees, who are currently all without income or health care coverage, he continues to face no consequences for the company’s descent toward insolvency.

We get it. We can’t fire the president for making a catastrophic mistake and then failing to communicate it to the union before it was an emergency. We can’t fire him for deciding that cutting our jobs was the only remedy for his calamitous mismanagement. We can expect better from Daily Kos leadership, though, and we are demanding Will do better.

Will must do better.

We also do not believe in carelessly casting aside employees who have given years of their expertise to the company. We want to help Will improve, and we have some actionable steps toward that goal.

Recent interactions with DKM have proven that when Guild members expect action from management, we must also build the system for generating that action. So, we’ve gone ahead and done just that.

The Daily Kos Guild has developed a performance improvement plan (PIP) for Will Rockafellow. 

We look forward to Will’s reports and good progress. We’re grateful to the Community for your support as we work on ensuring fair treatment for the Guild employees who remain here, and—finally—beginning collective bargaining agreement negotiations.

On the date of voting, Daily Kos Guild represented 54 Daily Kos staff members and another 6 “disputed” positions, accounting for 68% of Daily Kos’ total workforce. Today, DKG represents 45 positions. DKG is a Pacific Media Workers Guild member, a local of The NewsGuild/Communication Workers of America, and was certified as the bargaining unit of represented staff in 2022.

As a member of The NewsGuild/Communication Workers of America, we move in solidarity with all our union colleagues across the country—as well as the larger worker rights movement.

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Hunter Paniagua

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