As Washington, D.C., Local 1200 marks a year battling for a fair contract at CBS-affiliate WUSA-9, members of Congress and other area leaders are urging the station’s corporate owners Tegna Inc. to show its workers the respect they deserve at the bargaining table.
The bargaining team for Local 1200’s WUSA-9 unit had met 16 times with corporate owner Tegna Inc. as of the first week in October. Committee members, clockwise from left: Danielle Flanagan, Local 1200 president and WUSA shop steward; attorney Paul Starr, Gina Cooper, Fourth District international representative; Joe Zentner, chief shop steward; and Michael Trammell, shop steward. Not pictured: Local 1200 Business Manager Ken Brown.
“We encourage you to negotiate in good faith to come to a resolution that includes a fair wage and benefit package,” U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen and Benjamin Cardin of Maryland said in a letter to station manager Richard Dyer in September.
Washington, D.C., Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton wrote, “There is no doubt that the workers represented by the IBEW have contributed to [WUSA-9’s] success. I look forward to hearing of a speedy, positive agreement.”
Despite the local’s compromises and concessions over the course of 16 bargaining sessions, including five with a mediator, Tegna, formerly Gannett, has refused to discuss any of the union’s proposals. “Not interested” has been chief negotiator Tim Fair’s stock response.
“Everything we’ve proposed, it’s been ‘no, no, no,’” Local 1200 Business Manager Ken Brown said.
Putting Tegna’s foot-dragging in perspective, Brown said that since talks began last October, he’s negotiated five other contracts – two Baltimore local stations plus CBS News, Fox Sports and MoodMedia – wrapping up each one in a matter of days.
The WUSA-9 unit, which includes nearly 40 technicians, camera operators, editors and other employees, has been working under an expired contract since November.
Other IBEW locals with members at Tegna stations around the country have fought, or are fighting now, against concessionary demands affecting wages, shifts, vacation schedules, overtime, layoffs, severance, training and more. At KSDK in St. Louis, Local 4 has erected a billboard calling for people to boycott the station.
Local 1200 filed an unfair labor practice charge in August, detailing the union’s efforts and Tegna’s bad faith. The National Labor Relations Board is investigating it, along with a shop steward’s charges of management harassment over the past year
Noting minor progress in the two most recent bargaining sessions, Fourth District International Representative Gina Cooper said it’s possible the company is starting to feel the heat.
“I think the board charges are having an effect, but we’re not seeing anything drastic,” she said, explaining that the company’s only real movement was dropping its demand to pay overtime after 40 hours in a week instead of eight hours in a day.
“They really have held to tight to trying to dismantle a lot of pieces here,” Cooper said.
One of the union’s key issues is the company’s merit-pay system. Or, as Brown puts it, “a system of ‘who do you like best?’ There’s not really any merit to it.”
With Tegna flatly refusing to switch to a wage scale, the bargaining team has proposed ways to make the system more fair, so far to no avail.
“When you look at it, in this day and age, we’re trying to save them from themselves,” Brown said. “Because some of the workers who aren’t getting the raises they deserve are women and minorities.”
Maryland’s senators made a separate point about wages in their letter of support.
“We are aware that the new tax law provided a substantial windfall to Tegna,” Van Hollen and Cardin wrote, citing the $35 million the company told the SEC it expects to save in 2018 taxes alone.
“Advocates of the new tax law claimed that its corporate tax cuts would trickle down to workers in the form of pay raises,” they said. “It is our understanding, however, that WUSA-TV and IBEW have not reached terms on multiple bargaining points, including wages.”
Cooper said more area leaders are expected to submit letters on the workers’ behalf, and the union is working on plans for a broader public appeal.
“We’re extremely grateful to the political and civic leaders already standing with us,” she said. “If we continue to hit a brick wall with Tegna, we know we can count on our labor and social justice allies, not to mention the many thousands of WUSA-9 viewers who appreciate how hard our members work to bring them the news every day.”