This is adapted from Washington City Paper.
By EVAN GAHR
The Washington Post fancies itself the friend of the working
man—at least until he actually toils on behalf of the Washington Post.
The House that the Grahams built late last month settled a
lawsuit filed by an independent contractor who claimed the Post welched on its
promise to refund unsold copies of the paper he bought for distribution to
individual copy retailers such as CVS.
Maryland resident Ricardo Smith said that the
Washington Post also reneged on this assurance to approximately 60 other
independent contractors just like him.
A federal judge had given Smith the green light to
pursue a class action lawsuit on their behalf. But the settlement pre-empts
Attorney Amy Pierce, who defends companies against
class action lawsuits, that it is possible the Washington Post paid to settle
Smith’s individual claim to avoid the “risk” of being engulfed in a
full-fledged class action lawsuit.
So this could be the only time the Washington Post
has frowned upon class warfare!
Terms of the settlement, filed April 24 with United
States District Court for the District of Columbia Circuit, are confidential.
But the lawsuit allegations and other publicly available documents provide an interesting
window into the kind of Washington Post labor practices that the paper normally
labels exploitative when done by anyone else.
Yes, the paper which just paid publisher Katherine
Weymouth $2.7 million in bonuses on top of her 479,688 salary, quibbles over
pocket change with men and women who hawk its wares.
Is this what the Washington Post means with all
their seemingly endless articles about income inequality?
But more than penny pinching may be at issue here: Properly
refunding or crediting unsold copies of the paper would have reduced Washington
Post circulation figures.
By refusing returns the papers remained officially
“sold” even though they were really not. The lawsuit claims that for years the
Post failed to properly “record and account for Plaintiff’s returned
Smith’s lawsuit says that when he started
distributing the Post in 2002 the paper “promised Plaintiffs to refund the
purchase price of Newspapers that were not sold by retailers that Plaintiffs
returned ‘in any week.’”
The contract required both sides to approve any
But in 2008, the Post “repeatedly and unilaterally”
imposed shorter deadlines for returns (legal papers don’t specify the new
cut-off time). With the goal posts moved again and again for Smith and his
colleagues the Post failed to “appropriately credit or pay” them for papers
Smith worked for the Washington Post from 2002 to 2011.
According to his lawsuit, independent contractors
also purchased from the Post distribution center copies of USA Today, the New
York Times and the New York Daily News.
It is well to note that relying on independent
contractors to distribute copies of the paper to retailers is a cost-cutting
measure for the very paper that normally scowls at efforts by businesses and
local and state governments to reduce burdensome labor costs.
Indeed, the paper’s celebrated WonkBlog complained just
the other week wrote that independent contractors“have emerged all over the economy, from
cheerleaders to construction workers.
Personnel not covered by unemployment insurance made up 23.5 percent of their
workforce in 2010 up from 19 percent in 2001. Companies often try to classify
their workers as independent, even if they’re not, to avoid taxes and weaken
But the Post’s own independent contractors were omitted from the
piece, the second one in little more than a month to claim independent
contractors elsewhere get shafted.
the Post does not even give any wage to the men and
women essential to its business.
Moreover, as independent contractors, men like Smith
also get no health insurance from the Washington Post. Quite ironic given that
the paper supported the Obamacare edict that companies provide it to their
Think about it: the Washington Post essentially
farms out a key component of its labor force. The independent contractors who
buy the papers in turn hire people to help distribute them. That leaves these
agents-—not the Washington Post—on the hook for related costs, such as payroll
taxes and unemployment insurance.
All of these issues might make a good story for the
Washington Post, especially because the legal maneuverings over Smith’s case
dragged on for nearly 18 months.
Smith filed his lawsuit on October 26, 2012. The Post responded on December 17, 2012 with
a motion to dismiss the case or, alternatively, strike the class action claim.
The Post also denied they had unilaterally changed the terms of their
contract with Smith and other independent agents.
A round of replies and counter-replies ensued.
Finally, on August 28, 2013, Federal Judge Royce
Lamberth rejected the motion by the Washington Post to dismiss the lawsuit or
“strike” the class action claim. Lamberth, a Ronald Reagan appointee, ruled
that Smith could seek “class certification” for his fellow independent
With depositions and discovery looming, the
Washington Post then convinced Lamberth to seal discovery material on November
Mull that over for a moment.
The Washington Post fancies itself quite the public servant
because they reveal secret NSA programs, even though the disclosures leave this
country more vulnerable to terrorism. But its lawyer then enlists the
government to keep its own business information under wraps.
The newsroom also helped out.
This reporter asked Washington Post media reporter Paul Farhi
and media blogger Erik Wemple, who both refuse to report on the ongoing race
discrimination lawsuit against the paper,
if they wanted to cover “another lawsuit” against their
You would have thought they would at least have inquired about
the nature of the lawsuit before
deciding to skip it. For all they knew it could have been about nuclear waste
being stockpiled in the Washington Post newsroom.
But, apparently not.
Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron and Washington Post managing editor Kevin Merida did not respond to requests for comment.
Washington Post spokeswoman Kristine Coratti ignored repeated inquiries.
Washington Post vice president for circulation Gregg Fernandes would not take this reporter's call and did not respond to an email.