Story and photos by Tiney Ricciardi
When negotiations get tough, the tough get fermenting. That’s the approach The Denver Post’s newsroom union took when it partnered with a local brewery on an “extra, extra” special beer to raise awareness about its plight at the bargaining table with owner Alden Global Capital.
On Dec. 8, The Denver Post guild hosted a release party for The Thirst Amendment, a black India pale ale brewed in partnership with Denver’s FlyteCo Brewing, welcoming about 100 people who raised a pint in solidarity as the journalists there continue their quest for fair wages.
“The huge turnout, which included journalists from at least half a dozen other local news organizations, Denver City Council members, candidates for city offices, and just good old fashioned readers, demonstrated what we’ve known all along: The Denver Post is the sum of reporters, photographers, digital strategists, and other staff who work there every day,” said Joe Rubino, a Denver Post reporter and chair of the newsroom unit. “Our supporters know that and they are sending a clear message to management: Pay journalists what they’re owed.”
The beer collaboration comes more than six months after representatives of both The Post’s newsroom and non-newsroom guild units first started negotiating the terms of a new employment contract with corporate management. While headway has been made on other issues – for example, management agreed to language that states they “will strive to interview” job candidates of color and from communities traditionally underrepresented in the journalism industry – they have yet to reach an agreement about compensation.
The newsroom unit seeks a 16% increase to its pay scale over two years, meaning a retroactive 8% increase for 2022 and another 8% increase in 2023. Corporate countered with a one-time, $1,000 bonus per person upon ratification of a new contract. Media personnel at The Post and beyond found this offer insulting.
“It’s unconscionable to not give journalists a raise, especially in Denver where the cost of living has ballooned,” said Alex Rose, digital anchor for the local Fox 31. “Journalism matters, and the people at the Post are damn good at it. They deserve a raise, and I’m happy to raise a glass to that cause.”
Since 2016, the last time the newsroom received across-the-board raises, the median price of a single-family home in Denver has risen 71% to $650,000, while the average rent for an apartment has increased 37% to $1,860. Add in inflation, rising health care costs and the lack of matching 401K contributions, and The Denver Post’s journalists are falling even farther behind.
FlyteCo Brewing agreed to partner with The Denver Post after witnessing the benefits of a strong and trustworthy local media ecosystem first-hand. Earlier this year, I spotlighted the brewery’s newest location and when I joined the owners on a trip to pick up fresh hops in Western Colorado, they told me about the positive impact the story had on their independently-owned business.
“Journalists play an invaluable role in our communities, and we wanted to collaborate with this bargaining collective to give them an even bigger platform in getting their message out,” said Morgan O’Sullivan, co-owner of FlyteCo Brewing. The response to the beer release only proved that point, he added after the event.
To bring this collab to life, FlyteCo’s head brewer, Jason Slingsby, informed The Post’s seven-person bargaining committee of his upcoming brew schedule and allowed them to pick a style of beer to claim as their own. They then solicited names from union membership — after all, the staff here has a way with words — before voting on the top suggestions.
Business reporter Judith Kohler pitched the winning name, The Thirst Amendment, which perfectly marries the spirit of the mission with a passion point for the community The Post serves. As one Twitter user put it, “of all of the Denver protests, this one is quite possibly the Denverist.”
The Thirst Amendment release reinvigorated The Denver Post’s union members, who got to chat with longtime readers and rally support from others in the media and beer industries. But their fight isn’t over yet.
Just one day after the party, corporate management tried to cancel the next bargaining session, claiming it was unable to make a different wage proposal because revenue at The Denver Post is “well below expectations.” We forced corporate’s representatives to meet us at the table in good faith and they later upped their offer to a $1,500 bonus spread over two years. We will not settle for that.
The Denver Post’s editorial management has repeatedly told staff that revenue from digital subscriptions alone covers the salary budget for newsroom personnel and the message from our local community was clear when we collected letters of support at the Thirst Amendment release party:
“I’ve been a Denver Post subscriber for more than a decade. Your workers all deserve a thriving wage for the invaluable work they do,” said one. “Do the right thing: Pay journalists for their work. No paper without them.”
FEATURED PHOTO: Denver city council member Kevin Flynn, center, joined the event supporting Denver Post newsroom workers.