May 6, 2011
You know WGBH as a broadcasting and program production organization that creates some of the best-known, award-winning programming on television, radio, and the Web. Our success is attributable to the hard work and commitment of our 850 employees and the support of those in our community like you.
Much of our content is produced for distribution through the public media system (PBS, PRI, NPR). In that content producer role, WGBH often competes with other producers for both projects and funding. Dramatic changes in our industry, combined with economic pressures from the recession, have had a significant impact on our productions and our finances. We must address these changes if we are to continue our work and preserve good jobs for our employees and the community.
Last summer, we began negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement with the Association of the Employees of the Educational Foundation, Communications Workers of America, Local 1300 ("AEEF/CWA"), a union that represents approximately 280 of our employees. In the negotiations, we are pursuing a collective bargaining agreement that will give us the flexibility to adapt to the changing industry and economy, the ability to treat all our employees fairly, and the ability to continue to handle public and donor funds responsibly.
First, we are seeking an agreement that will enable our not-for-profit organization to adapt to the changing industry and its economics. Our goal is to preserve the production work we have and grow it, which in turn means more jobs for our employees and the region. To do that, we need the ability to work with independent producers and others outside WGBH, to use more modern production workflows, and to provide employees the opportunity to diversify their skills and grow professionally. The changes we have sought in our proposals have been designed to give us that flexibility so we can adapt our work moving forward.
Second, we are seeking an agreement that will allow us to treat all employees at WGBH fairly by providing employees good pay and benefits and rewarding good performance. Wages in the media industry have been declining, and we, like most employers, have been challenged by the recession. Despite that, we decided that we would not look to decrease employee wages; in fact, we are proposing modest wage increases and the ability to give bonuses and increases to strong performers. In addition to providing health insurance (up to 75% of which is paid by WGBH), long-term disability insurance, retirement, severance, paid time off, and life insurance, we also are proposing to provide employees short-term disability insurance and paid maternity, paternity, and adoption leave. The only benefits reductions we have sought are designed to create parity for all our employees, so that AEEF/CWA employees are not receiving more than their WGBH colleagues-including members of WGBH's other union, the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians (NABET).
Finally, we are seeking an agreement that enables WGBH to continue to handle public and donor funds responsibly. We rely on the generosity of individuals in the community who donate their hard-earned money to our efforts, and on government funds, foundation grants, and contributions from businesses that want to give back to their community. We have a duty to ensure that we are using those dollars to the best of our ability to achieve our educational and public service mission.
To date, we have been unable to reach an agreement with AEEF/CWA. When we began bargaining with the union last summer, we spent hours sharing information about the dramatic changes to our industry, the impact on our business, and what we believe to be the solutions to those challenges. We were clear that we wanted to negotiate a contract with the union as soon as possible because, given the circumstances, delay of pursuing solutions would put jobs at risk. Toward that end, we offered to meet every single day, including weekends and holidays, beginning in late July.
The union ignored our request for a timely resolution and instead chose to delay, offering few dates to negotiate and failing to give a comprehensive response to our proposals until four days before the contract expired. After the contract expired, the union's course of delay did not change - they continued to be available to meet on only a handful of days, despite the negative impact of delay on jobs. We decided to take the step of discontinuing dues withdrawal so the union would also have an incentive to resolve the negotiations as preserving jobs was apparently not enough. We coupled that step with a proposal that the parties involve a federal mediator. When the union expressed concern about the impact of dues withdrawal on their finances, we offered to restore dues withdrawal in exchange for a commitment to try to resolve the negotiations by the end of January. The union turned us down.
On February 25, after 30 full-day sessions, seven months of negotiations, and three months with the federal mediator, WGBH gave the union its final proposal. In it, WGBH went as far as we could to address the union's concerns and at the same time allow WGBH to adapt to the changing industry and economics. The union rejected WGBH's final proposal on March 13. Since that time, in accordance with federal labor law, WGBH has declared an impasse and implemented our final proposal.
With implementation of the final proposal, AEEF/CWA employees received raises; they are the only employees at WGBH who have received general raises in the last three plus years. At no point has AEEF/CWA disagreed with our assessment of the challenges facing WGBH or offered alternative solutions for how WGBH can meet those challenges.
Some have accused WGBH of being anti-union. Nothing could be further from the truth. WGBH's history, proposals, and conduct during these negotiations show that WGBH respects the role of AEEF/CWA, respects our union employees, and has taken steps to preserve the role of the union at WGBH. WGBH works cooperatively with multiple unions, including AEEF/CWA, NABET, and talent unions such as SAG, AFTRA, and WGA, and has done so for nearly 40 years. Union labor built our Brighton studios. Each of our proposals to AEEF/CWA has included provisions that preserve the union's role at WGBH - a union security provision that requires employees that hold bargaining unit positions to be union members; a dues withdrawal provision whereby WGBH would collect dues for the union; a grievance and arbitration provision through which the union can enforce the contract; and a no lock-out provision. Those provisions are in addition to provisions that define the union's jurisdiction and the employees the union represents.
It is our hope that the union will determine to accept our proposal in the near future. We believe the proposal will help us preserve and grow our production, and in turn, jobs for our employees, the union, and our community.
Thank you for your consideration of these issues. We greatly appreciate your continued support of WGBH.