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Washingtonian Journalists Protest CEO’s Back-to-Office Op-Ed With Work Stoppage

Cathy Merrill called for employees to be demoted if they won’t come into the office after months of remote work

The editorial staff of the Washingtonian will not be publishing on Friday in protest of an op-ed from the company’s CEO that called for them to return to the office or face penalties. CEO Cathy Merrill, the CEO of Washingtonian Media, wrote that employees who don’t want to return to the office consistently may be demoted from staffers to contractors, losing status, money and benefits.

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“As members of the Washingtonian editorial staff, we want our CEO to understand the risks of not valuing our labor. We are dismayed by Cathy Merrill’s public threat to our livelihoods. We will not be publishing today,” wrote the staffers in a blast of identical tweets Friday morning.

The staff is not unionized, so the refusal to work is especially surprising and carries extra risks.

In her Washington Post piece Thursday, Washingtonian Media CEO Cathy Merrill wrote about her eagerness to see staff back in the office after the past months of remote work during the coronavirus pandemic. This is the paragraph that outlines her proposal:

While some employees might like to continue to work from home and pop in only when necessary, that presents executives with a tempting economic option the employees might not like. I estimate that about 20 percent of every office job is outside one’s core responsibilities — “extra.” It involves helping a colleague, mentoring more junior people, celebrating someone’s birthday — things that drive office culture. If the employee is rarely around to participate in those extras, management has a strong incentive to change their status to “contractor.” Instead of receiving a set salary, contractors are paid only for the work they do, either hourly or by appropriate output metrics. That would also mean not having to pay for health care, a 401(k) match and our share of FICA and Medicare taxes –benefits that in my company’s case add up roughly to an extra 15 percent of compensation. Not to mention the potential savings of reduced office space and extras such as bonuses and parking fees.

Readers offered support to the employees refusing to publish on Friday, calling Merrill’s piece “appalling” and “arrogant.”

Merrill did not immediately respond to a request for comment.