in: News & Features

March 2, 2011

WGBH and Union Near Impasse

by

Update as of March 16

WGBH management has imposed certain of the terms of its final and best offer which the AEEF-CWA Local 1300 union had rejected. That offer may be read here.

Update as of March 14

Regarding recent developments in the six-month-old labor dispute, Jordan Weinstein, president of AEEF-CWA Local 1300 sent a press release which BMInt excerpts: “ … [on March 13] members of AEEF-CWA Local 1300 voted overwhelmingly to reject WGBH’s final offer for a new collective bargaining agreement (97% of all eligible voters in AEEF’s membership participated in the ratification vote. Of all eligible votes cast, 93% rejected management’s final offer.

“Today our members sent a clear signal to WGBH that this final offer is absolutely unacceptable,” said Weinstein. “The next steps will be to notify the federal mediator of our vote results, and to ask WGBH management to abandon implementing the terms of their final offer.  Our goal now is to return to the bargaining table and continue negotiating fair working conditions as part of a mutually acceptable contract.”

Jeanne Hopkins, vice president for communications and government relations for WGBH, responded, “It’s unfortunate that the union has voted not to accept WGBH’s offer, which maintains wage increases, offers employees flexibility to grow, and [gives] generous benefits at a difficult economic time. What is clear is that this is far from an overwhelming decision, as close to half of the union members did not vote against the WGBH proposal — 188 out of nearly 300 union members.”

Asked for an explanation for their differing interpretations of the voting numbers, Hopkins noted, “There are close to 300 members of this union, but they have said only 203 voted. So while 188 of the 203 votes cast gives them that percent, it leaves out the fact that there remains close to 100 union members who were not eligible or did not vote.”

From Weinstein comes this follow-up: “There are 280 members of the union of whom 210 are in good standing, that is, current in their dues payment. Seventy members were unqualified to vote because they were in arrears. The main reason that one-third of the union members were not current was that WGBH stopped collecting dues as a payroll deduction.”

Jeanne Hopkins adds in rebuttal or clarification, “Union members were not prevented from paying their dues and had opportunity to do so, if they chose to.”

BMInt will continue to follow this story —whether negotiations will resume or WGBH will impose its final offer.

The six-month-old labor dispute between the WGBH Foundation and the 280 workers of AEEF/CWA Local 1300 (the station’s largest union representing the production and service group staff ) is coming to a climax. On February 25, the Foundation’s negotiating team presented its “last, best and final proposal” for a new collective bargaining agreement. Management negotiators then departed from the table and gave the union until March 15 to accept or reject the contract. If the union rejects the contract management has said it will declare an impasse and unilaterally impose the terms of their final offer.

The concessions which management is requesting are draconian according to union spokesmen. BMInt believes that our most productive role in this unhappy story is the publication of four important documents which will allow our readers to make their own unfiltered evaluations of the opposing cases’ merits. The final offer from management with considerable detail on salaries and policy is here; the cover letter from management to the members of the union is here.  The  union’s official response is here, and a fact sheet summarizing the union’s interpretation of the issues is here.

WGBH spokesman, Jeanne Hopkins would not return BMInt’s call. But we certainly understand that the WGBH Foundation does not have unlimited coffers and that it must balance its desires to compensate its employees against the limitations of its fiscal realities. From our reading, though, the issue of compensation is far from the most contested.

While BMInt is not offering an opinion of the merits of the opposing briefs, we were particularly struck by some of the language in the WGBH letter to the union members.  The final offer document seems to require considerable sacrifices from the members of the union, including the forfeiture of the right to express grievances publicly. Furthermore, according to union spokesman, Jordan Weinstein, management is asking for the right to outsource any of the union’s work and to be permitted to terminate any on-air or production employee without cause.

That management asks the union members to accept this contract as an, “… an investment…” sounds truly Orwellian, unless management is accurate in its implication that without the implementation all of their requested concessions, no jobs would exist at WGBH because the entire enterprise could collapse—especially if this dispute is viewed through the prism of  recent history which has lead to the bankruptcy of  General Motors  and the cancellation of the Detroit Symphony season.

9 Comments

  1. Upon reading this article, I called WGBH and told whoever writes down members’ comments that if this union-busting contract goes through, I will stop contributing to WGBH.

    Comment by Bill Joplin — March 3, 2011 at 10:49 am

  2. After over 30 years of being a generous contributor, I’ve stopped giving.

    The big-wigs @ WGBH give themselves a $200,000 raise and get rid of 30-40% of the staff!

    I do so hope that the Unions bring WGBH to their knees!

    Comment by Ed Burke — March 3, 2011 at 12:27 pm

  3. For anyone still confused by the hard-line approach taken by WGBH corporate management, google “WGBH David Koch”.

    Comment by John Bennett — March 3, 2011 at 1:19 pm

  4. Not a fan — at all — of the Koch Brothers and their political and business dealings. But their charitable giving is of the “no strings attaxched” variety, as the New Yorker explained in great detail in an otherwise unflattering profile a few months ago. There is simply no connection to be made here. The Kochs give money to arts and culture they appreciate. From their site:

    Gifts to the arts from the David H. Koch Charitable Foundation have benefited the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Ballet Theater. In 2008, the foundation gave $100 million for the preservation and renovation of the State Theater of New York at Lincoln Center, home to the New York City Ballet and New York City Opera.

    John Bennett, leave this sort of dot connecting to Glenn Beck.

    Comment by mfo817 — March 3, 2011 at 2:26 pm

  5. WGBH is a different animal. Keep your eye on funding for Frontline and other public affairs programs.

    Comment by John Bennett — March 7, 2011 at 12:32 pm

  6. Frontline runs on CPB money, private foundations, and almost zero corporate funds. GOP members of Congress are biggest threat to Frontline as they want to zero out PBS, which is largest source of Frontline funding. GOP opposition to PBS goes back many, many years and can’t be laid at Koch’s door.

    Comment by mfo817 — March 7, 2011 at 5:05 pm

  7. It’s hard to be sure about the rights and wrongs of this business. It does seem as if many of the changes may be motivated by a desire to take work away from the union. OTOH one can wonder if maybe the union had priced itself out of the market. On the first hand, management seems generally to hold itself harmless while asking for givebacks from labor.

    Hopefully we don’t have a dog in this fight. I mean I hope that the staff at WCRB won’t be at risk under the terms of this proposal.

    Comment by Joe Whipple — March 8, 2011 at 9:24 pm

  8. According to FCC records, the WGBH Educational Foundation has applied to increase the effective-rated-power and therefore the coverage area of Nantucket-based WNTK-FM 89.5. The FCC has an application to start a new FM on WNTK’s frequency in Harwich, so this may be a pre-emptive strike by WGBH. If the application is accepted and WGBH somehow finds the money to complete the power upgrade, WCRB-based programming may be audible by more people on the Cape.

    Comment by Laurence Glavin — March 10, 2011 at 4:56 pm

  9. For the record, that’s WNCK, not WNTK; the latter is in the Lake Sunapee region of NH.

    Comment by Laurence Glavin — March 12, 2011 at 1:31 pm

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