It was not a good weekend for Daily Kos. I would like to help improve the coming week. But this diary might not be a pleasant read for everyone. These are painful topics to discuss.
Brief introduction to my Daily Kos history
I joined 2006, motivated mostly by the wish to better inform American progressives about Israel-Palestine (I-P). In my 16.5 years here I have seen many rising I-P star diarists come and go; they fly high, then burn out by the toxicity in comment threads, as well as the continued deterioration on the ground in I-P. I’ve never invested quite as much as these stars, and that laziness — plus my relatively less-vulnerable position (in a place like Daily Kos) as a blue-blooded Jewish Israeli attacking his own regime — has kept me going all these years. The number of Kossacks active on I-P in 2006 who still write about it now, is vanishing small.
Daily Kos has become a central part of my daily life. Currently it is one of my 4 main sources of daily news, together with The Guardian, Mekomit (Hebrew; the same group also runs the English 972mag but the story collection is different), and Cleantechnica (just recently I’ve also discovered Green Matters, a nice counterbalance to Cleantechnica’s testosterone-filled threads). Among these sources, I have been with Daily Kos the longest, and also check it most frequently.
I’m probably addicted. And I deeply appreciate the sense of virtual home this site has given me, whether it’s a real sense or just in my twisted mind. I am grateful for that to Markos, and to all contributors paid and unpaid. I admired Gabe Ortiz’ relentless, morality-driven laser-precision coverage of immigration issues, Marissa Higgins’ equally-inspiring and inclusive LGBTQ+ coverage, Chris Reeves teaching us about hopeful, compassionate progressive organizing in Kansas. And so many others.
about vitriol and speaking out
One thing I have surely learned from I-P posts and threads (both here and elsewhere), is how easy it is to slide into destructive, scorched-earth hyperbole and namecalling, even among people sharing similar worldviews. But I have also learned the immense importance of speaking truth to power and calling a spade a spade, of resisting the pressure to sugarcoat (a chronic American illness, that one), of calling out a festering problem rather than letting it fester.
I have a personal tendency to speak truth to power, and a huge aversion to punching down. Seeing people punch down literally boils my blood. I am known to have spoken out in work settings too, paying the price sometimes willingly and sometimes inadvertently. Arriving here from Israel mid-career, it has been shocking to see the huge “workplace democracy gap” the US suffers from.
If you’ve read any of my I-P diaries, you know that Israel is not really a democracy; not while running a military dictatorship on indigenous population in its own back yard for 55+ years and counting. But Israeli workplace culture is actually, paradoxically way more democratic than here! For example, Israeli workers can often talk back to bosses with little repercussion. In the US daily life the democratic culture is far stronger, but in the workplace? Oh my Goodness. More often than not, the US workplace is ridiculously totalitarian and bosses at all levels are obsessive tyrants.
Apologies if this offends anyone, but I’m seeing the impact of this prevailing national workplace culture both upon how the Management-Guild conflict has evolved, and upon how the Kossack community has perceived and addressed it over the last few days.
To wit, this past weekend and into Monday saw a string of well-received, uplifting diaries by prominent members (far more prominent than I), reminding us how valuable Daily Kos has been, and urging us to move on. These diaries still sprinkle the Reclist.
But we cannot just move on.
In the site’s domestic conflict, one side — the weaker side — has been badly hurt, then vilified and humiliated and punched-down onto, and as of late Monday night has not been heard of since that brutal Friday-night takedown by the site’s owner. For all we know, they might be under some implicit or explicit gag threat.
These “move-on” diaries were well-intentioned, but what they essentially tell Guild members is to suck it up, and to be grateful that they can continue writing our front-page diaries and maintaining this website for us. By contrast, since Saturday I have not seen a single diary — at least no prominent one — requesting anything from management in order to facilitate “moving on”.
This strikes me as extremely anti-labor. And not really progressive.
As recently as a few days ago, the site’s sentiments were almost totally opposite. Then came a fateful Friday post by the Guild. I will not second-guess them here, nor berate them. Objectively, that diary was harsher than prior ones, and it has clearly backfired.
But don’t you think it’s a little too convenient, to just throw the Guild to the dogs after one harshly-worded diary you perhaps didn’t like, and a far more harsher rapid-fire response by their boss? Has your view of labor relations changed so dramatically, and for all practical purposes aligned with how a typical conservative sees workplace relations — in response to just one single diary exchange?
I want to revisit one topic from that not-so-friendly Friday fire exchange, one I am familiar with:
I have not been in direct communications with the Guild recently, but from that Friday diary it is clear to me that one thing driving them over the edge was an accelerated, pulling-rug-from-under-feet move by management to finalize involuntary layoffs at breakneck speed, terminating employment effective February 28.
The Guild wrote,
...when employees are terminated on the last day of the month, rather than on the first, their health care coverage ends immediately.
Which was enough for Markos to call them a few hours later, “Liars” (emphasis mine).
This is a lie that beggars belief. From the agreement we negotiated with the Guild, impacted employees who accepted the severance agreement (which is all of them) receive:
(i) A base severance of 12 weeks' pay, plus an additional 1 week's pay for each year of service with the company.
(1) Years of service shall be calculated on a prorated basis with credit for partial years with the company.
(ii) Reimbursement of health care benefit costs extended through COBRA for a period of three months.
Charitably, neither side is lying. Less charitably, the Guild’s description is much closer to ground reality, and Kos didn’t do his homework before hastily punching down and namecalling his employees in the most public and humiliating way possible.
I have personally experienced COBRA. Yet another of those kludgey, parody-of-a-safety-net thingies that the US has somehow cobbled together, and of course a thingie exploited by the vulture-like outfits that usually run COBRA gigs.
First, COBRA continuation (or more precisely: replacement) is not some charity that Kos has bestowed upon the laid-off. The law confers employees with the right to continue/replace their current coverage with identical coverage for up to 18 months. That’s what COBRA is. But the law, stupidly, doesn’t require employers to pay for anything — but in the context of layoffs it’s a near-universal practice (among not-terribly-awful workplaces, at least) to pay for 3+ months.
Second, as said above technically it’s not continuation — it’s a replacement. The right is to continue the same insurance plan. But your employer doesn’t have to facilitate it anymore, unless they volunteer to. On the first of the month after your termination, by default your employer insurance card — the equivalent of a passport in the insane US healthcare universe — becomes useless plastic. In that insane and often-cruel universe, you are now a stateless person.
Try to get a pharmacy give you meds according to an insurance plan, when you don’t have a current insurance card.
To get COBRA replacement you need to file that vulture outfit’s paperwork and wait for the cards to come in. This can take a month. The cards are surely — 100% sure — not there the day after you got laid off, particularly not when the layoff was short-notice by pulling the rug from under frantic union negotiations (or rather, at least as it seems to me: desperate attempts by the Guild to be heard and to even be at the table).
This is why all workplaces except the very worst of the lot, conduct their layoffs in such a manner that official last day of work is early in the calendar month. In 2017 I got laid off in a very, very ugly and underhanded manner. Come-to-a-regular-workday-and-leave-with-a-shitty-cardboard-box-2-hours-later-with-all-your-projects-going-into-limbo-and-your-collaborators-being-told-you-just-”left” ugly. But that day with the cardboard box was November 2nd. So I and my 4 dependents had 28 more days during which my insurance card worked, and to make that vulture COBRA outfit happy with its paperwork. [ That ugly-layoff place also also paid the equivalent of a 3-month COBRA, both employer and employee premiums. ]
And lo and behold — the day after Thanksgiving one of my sons had the worst accident in his life thus far (touch wood), requiring a full day in the ER. and follow-up visits in the following days, still in November. It was bad enough as it was. It would have been even worse, and deeply humiliating as a parent the family’s provider, if I had no insurance card to show the hospital, possibly also pay out of pocket and then wait until my COBRA kicked in to file for reimbursement.
Which is what would have happened, had I been laid off on October 31 instead of November 2 - equivalent to what Daily Kos management just did to fifteen pillars of this community.
Not only did management fail to understand this basic (and super-shitty) fact of US workplace life despite supposedly sending the HR “pros” to deal with the Guild — but the man at the top wasted no time in calling the Guild “liars”, even as Marissa Higgins was going around buying medications out of pocket, possibly at inflated uninsured prices.
But what do I want?
First of all, a small request to Markos (not a quote — I’m just highlighting my request using this box).
Please. Do. Not. Namecall and punch down on your employees in public. Ever. Again.
It is among the worst things an employer can do short of physical violence. It is also tearing this community apart — the weekend’s Kumbaya diary wave notwithstanding.
If I were you, I would strongly consider an equally public, 100% sincere apology.
And then, to follow up on your own words from that very same Friday night diary:
“The Guild is not an equal partner in management. Management is management. Labor fights for better wages and workplace conditions.”
Can you recognize the dictatorial American-workplace-culture tone I mentioned earlier? To my (admittedly limited) knowledge, in many European workplaces, a CEO who writes stuff like this will be out on their asses pretty soon afterwards. An owner in Western Europe saying this, might face an instant open-ended strike. By the way, never in all the “I love Daily Kos” diaries did I read a word of gratitude to the Guild, for not taking that most basic of labor-action steps, the one that in other countries would be the first, second, and last thing the union would do — i.e., the strike. They are still not striking despite having been thrown to the dogs.
But ok Markos. The power is all yours. In fact you are the founder and owner. And so — in a fair world, with power comes accountability. And surely not just in the narrow accounting sense.
You are the one most accountable for site culture. You are the one most at fault -whether directly or indirectly - for the total breakdown of trust and civility during this painful process. So please take the leadership in fixing things now. Fixing them properly, and deeply.
Otherwise, this place might survive financially — I’ve never had business acumen so won’t prognosticate on that — but its soul will have been disfigured, possibly in an irreversible manner.