Last Friday (5/6/16) newsroom employees at Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) announced, and MPR confirmed, a petition for a union election was given the go-ahead by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The election is scheduled for May 17. A simple majority means MPR must accommodate an employee union.
The employee action in St. Paul is an echo of a similar, successful union campaign at sister station KPCC in Los Angeles in 2013. The same union, the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) is involved with both unionization efforts. At KPCC, newsroom employees voted 35 to 26 to join SAG-AFTRA. Both stations are operated by parent company American Public Media (APM).
Angie Andresen, a spokeswoman for MPR, told City Pages [link]:
"MPR respects everyone’s right to have a voice in whether or not they want to be represented by a union, and we’re committed to an inclusive workplace where all employees feel valued and heard."
Last winter editorial employees met privately and held an initial union vote. A petition for a unionizing election was filed with NLRB in April.
The union effort may have been prompted, in part, by a recent layoff of 11 newsroom employees, 13 percent of the newsroom staff.
The employee group is thought to include reporters, producers, show hosts and news anchors. According to the City Pages report, employees of MPR's 89.3 The Current music station would not be included in the election or the union.
In late April MPR CEO Jon McTaggart sent a staff-wide email discouraging employees from "involving a third party”. McTaggart said:
"For nearly 50 years, MPR has been and continues to be a progressive employer that attracts, develops and rewards the very best people in public media. While always striving to do better, we have a long track record of being supportive and responsive to employees’ needs and concerns. I believe that, by working even more closely together, we can find a better path that builds on our unique history."
Beyond the comments by Andresen and McTaggart, mum is the word. When MinnPost reporter Brian Lambert asked one of leaders of the employee group for comments [link], he was told to contact SAG-AFTRA’s local bureau. The local shop sent him to SAG-AFTRA’s main office in LA where he was tersely told “No comment.”
ECHOES OF KPCC 2013
APM/MPR does not want a repeat of a 2013 KPCC SAG-AFTRA vote. KPCC’s employees approved the union shop. The vote meant 65 KPCC reporters, producers, show hosts and news anchors choose to be represented by the Hollywood-based union.
Prior to the KPCC vote, a website called "Reasons to say NO to SAG-AFTRA" [the site is still online at link] went up with arguments against the union from some of the station's top names, including show hosts Larry Mantle, John Rabe and Alex Cohen. Verbiage on the website said:
"…over the past few months, you’ve heard from many of your co-workers who support using SAG-AFTRA as representation. Not all of your colleagues feel this way. There are reporters, producers, hosts, anchors, and digital staff who feel the union is not the best option."
Longtime KPCC talk show host Larry Mantle said on the site:
“…what I love about our workplace culture, and what I understand is comparatively rare at other media companies. When I visit NPR or other public radio stations, I get a very different feel than I do at KPCC. We hear that regularly from visitors who've been elsewhere.”
“Given how valuable our culture is, and how I think it could change as a result of unionizing, I've decided to vote against SAG/AFTRA membership. I think unionizing would create a more consistent, but more rigid, relationship between employees and management, regardless of how we customize our contract or management procedures.”
The union vote happened without incident. KPCC’s newsroom is now a SAG-AFTRA union shop.