WHYY reporters, producers to vote in SAG-AFTRA union election this month

(Emma Lee/WHYY)

(Emma Lee/WHYY)

WHYY employees will vote October 30 on whether to join a union and begin negotiations with management over workplace conditions at the public radio broadcaster, the National Labor Relations Board said Wednesday. 

If a majority of eligible workers vote for the union, about 85 reporters, editors, producers and other staff at the NPR- and PBS-affiliated media outlet will be represented by the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA).

 Representatives of the union said 80 percent of the proposed members signed cards earlier this month indicating they support joining SAG-AFTRA. WHYY management declined to voluntarily recognize the union, which led to negotiations over which staff members were eligible and an agreement on a date for a vote.

 The group of employees, who call themselves the WHYY Union, said the makeup of the proposed bargaining unit is still in dispute. “Really bad news: upper management is trying to boot nine of our colleagues out of the union in the meantime. We won’t let them,” the group wrote on Twitter.

SAG-AFTRA proposed a union of 88 employees in a recognition petition filed with the NLRB on October 4. The two sides have been discussing a list of eligible positions using the union’s proposed criteria of “employees who create content for television, radio and digital platforms,” said Art Ellis, WHYY vice president for communications and member relations.

“We identified nine positions that we don’t believe are primarily content creation. At this point we have basically agreed to disagree,” Ellis said in an email. “No final decision has been made regarding whether those positions should be included in or excluded from the proposed unit.  Employees in those classifications will be entitled to vote, but their votes will not be counted until their inclusion in the unit is resolved after the voting.” 

The employee group has not publicly identified its leadership, but several reporters and other staffers have announced their participation or voiced support for the proposed union on Twitter. The petition was prepared by Magdalena Russell-Brown, director of organizing at SAG-AFTRA’s New York office, and SAG-AFTRA attorney Joshua Mendelsohn.

Molly Seavy-Nesper, associate producer of digital media for Fresh Air with Terry Gross, wrote on Twitter that she was among the employees whose eligibility to join the union had been challenged.

“(After 7 years of writing web pages, running social media, doing the podcast, they claimed I don’t create content),” she wrote. “Now I am off the list, but there are others who we still need to fight for. We will win!”

The petitioning employees have said they want to negotiate over compensation, advancement, professional development opportunities, work schedules, transparency and decision-making. 

They declined to discuss specific grievances, but several former staffers who had worked at WHYY recently said there had been a general dissatisfaction with pay rates, perceived pressure to work long hours without overtime compensation, and barriers to changing positions or advancing within the organization. Those problems led to high turnover of skilled staffers, loss of institutional memory, and sometimes lengthy vacancies in editorial positions, they said.

Ellis said some of those workplace issues have been mentioned in employee surveys, including one conducted in July. Even before the union drive, Ellis said, management had scheduled a meeting with staff for Wednesday to present an overview of the survey results. Management plans to work collaboratively with staff to address the issues, he said.  

“WHYY definitely wants to see talented reporters, editors and producers remain with the organization. We’re open to feedback, and welcome the opportunity to work with staff to create the best work environment we can,” Ellis said.

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