Last April, TC Daily Planet published an article about the two unions at Twin Cities Public Television (TPT) taking a voluntary pay cut in order to avoid future layoffs. Late this summer, however, management at TPT decided to go ahead and lay people off anyway, including the president and vice president of the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians (NABET).
“The timing of the layoffs, coming so soon after the agreement, and the workers they chose to layoff, the president and vice president of the local, make it hard to believe that the management of TPT isn’t trying to get rid of the union,” Chuck Preston, political coordinator for NABET, said in an email. Preston also sent out a press release that stated: “There are a lot of union issues here. The biggest one is: How can a company that depends on the progressive, liberal community treat its workers so badly?”
Richard Bowring, a photojournalist with 20 years experience at TPT who is also the president of the local NABET said at the time of the agreement that workers from NABET and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) at TPT received a pay increase of three percent in September 2008. Due to the slumping economy, the unions were approached by management early this year to renegotiate, with the prospect of layoffs for both union and nonunion workers, according to Bowring.
Bowring said that the unions agreed to the pay cut in order to prevent layoffs, but only on the condition that if any union members were laid off, the wages would increase again by three percent. Bowring said that TPT also agreed that when the unions renegotiated their contracts in August 2009, the beginning bargaining point would at the old base before the pay cut.
In August, the contracts were indeed renegotiated, and TPT announced layoffs of four of the 11 NABET workers and at least three IBEW workers, according to a NABET press release. All four laid off NABET workers were on the production crew for Almanac.
“We already gave wage decreases, which we thought would alleviate the need for this,” said Bowring, who is set to be laid off on September 31. “Obviously we were wrong.”
Bowring said before the contracts were re-negotiated, management approached his bargaining unit, asking the workers to go on a part time flexible schedule, where they would work a minimum of 24 hours and a maximum of 32 hours. “Essentially, we get paid less,” Bowring said, since the workers would then be paying more for health insurance, as it is pro-rated. Bowring said management also wanted the union to waive a division in the contract that stipulated that no more than 25 percent of the workload must be done by part time staff. “We voted against having that happen,” Bowring said. “It would terminate our local as we know it.”
Bowring said he thinks the layoffs will affect the quality of TPT’s programming. “Essentially there is no one in the studio looking after the nest,” Bowring said. “Every show is going to have a revolving door. There will be different people on the show each day… I think it’s a mistake.”
A statement released by TPT said that when the union workers refused to accept voluntary alternative work schedules, TPT notified staff that nine full time positions and one part-time position would be eliminated.
Jim Pagliarini, the executive director for TPT, said TPT was “absolutely not” trying to get rid of the unions, and that the fact that the vice president and president of NABET got laid off had to do with seniority, not their union position.
“We need to free up resources,” Pagliarini said. TPT has recently recruited three senior positions. Two are already established, and one is a new position, that of chief revenue officer, who will “bring more money into the station,” said Pagliarini.
Pagliarini also said that he felt that the layoffs wouldn’t affect the quality of the programming. “We have a very rich pool of people- union people,” said Pagliarini. In terms of having different people working on a given project from day to day, Pagliarini said that it won’t be that different from the way that TPT already operates.
Cathy Wurzer, co-host of Almanac, said she knew little about the circumstances about the layoffs, but she said “It is such a sad situation”. Mary Lahammer, a reporter on Almanac, declined to be interviewed, but she also expressed her regret: “It’s a tough situation,” she said.
Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis theater artist and freelance writer. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
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