This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
In a formal government-run election, journalists and other workers at public media station WHYY will vote today on whether or not they want a union to represent them. Votes will be counted Wednesday evening.
The vote comes nearly a month after WHYY workers went public with their intent to unionize, citing “untenable working conditions” that they say have led to high turnover at one of the only growing local media outlets in the region.
WHYY is the latest in a series of union organizing campaigns at news organizations, as the financially-struggling news industry continues to shed workers: In the last month alone, journalists at the Arizona Republic voted to unionize and those at the Miami Herald announced their bid to unionize.
On Oct. 2, the WHYY workers — among them, reporters and producers who create online, radio, and TV content — presented to management a pro-union petition signed by a majority of the nearly 90 WHYY workers in the proposed bargaining unit and asked management to voluntarily recognize the union. The workers are seeking to unionize with SAG-AFTRA, a union that represents over 160,000 media professionals, including those at NPR and other public media stations.
Management declined to voluntarily recognize the union. Instead, executives said they wanted the formal process of a National Labor Relations Board election and a period in which it would host educational meetings about the implications of forming a union, saying that it was the station’s duty “to ensure that all concerned have access to the facts.”
“Unilaterally recognizing the union would compromise the right of each individual to make a thoughtful choice,” WHYY said in a statement.
As per federal labor law, the union will become official if 50% plus one of the total voting workers vote yes.
Why workers want to unionize
Representatives of the proposed WHYY union declined to elaborate on reasons for unionizing, saying that they preferred to discuss the issues while negotiating their first contract. But media workers across the country have said they chose to unionize to fight for higher wages and better benefits like paid parental leave, and job protections in an industry rife with layoffs and consolidation.
WHYY CEO Bill Marrazzo’s salary, which was more than $760,000 in 2018, according to WHYY documents, has been a sticking point among both employees and consumers for more than a decade. Marrazzo’s compensation is well above that of his peers at comparable NPR affiliates, except for at WNYC, a much larger operation that had over $97 million in revenue last year compared to WHYY’s nearly $39 million. The WNYC chief executive was paid about $1 million in 2018.
Forty-two people called to cancel their WHYY membership because the station had not recognized the union, said spokesperson Art Ellis.
“While we don’t want to lose any members, that’s still a small percentage out of our 124,000 members,” he said.
Veteran Philadelphia journalist and Fresh Air host Dave Davies, who supports the union and is part of the proposed bargaining unit, asked those who were frustrated to be patient.
“A process has to unfold here, guided by labor law: we’ll have a debate, a vote, & if the union is approved, a contract negotiation,” he tweeted Monday.
Much of the chatter online — from former employees, other journalists, and consumers — has been in support of the union, reflecting a trend of increasing public support for unions in general.