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Workers at WHYY, Philly’s public radio station, vote to unionize

The vote, tallied Wednesday evening, was 70-1.

Members of the newly formed WHYY union after votes were tallied Wednesday evening.
Members of the newly formed WHYY union after votes were tallied Wednesday evening.Read moreWHYY Union

Journalists and other content producers at WHYY have voted to unionize with SAG-AFTRA, a union that represents more than 160,000 media workers, including those at NPR and other public media stations.

The vote, tallied Wednesday evening, was 70-1.

Nearly 90 workers — including reporters and producers who create online, radio, and TV content — were eligible to vote.

“We’re thrilled by our strong showing,” the union said in a statement. “We look forward to beginning a democratic process to hear from our members about what they would value most from a contract with management.”

Now that the union is official, the next step is negotiating the first collective bargaining agreement, the contract for the entire union. It’s an important period as it sets the stage for future contracts and the relationship between the union and management.

“It’s an important outcome,” CEO Bill Marrazzo said of the vote, “but it isn’t going to change our commitment to ensuring that we continue to grow WHYY and do so in a way where we can reach more and more people in the Delaware Valley.”

He said he was not concerned about any changes that the formation of a union might bring to the station. “WHYY,” he said, “is not for or against organized labor and we respect our employees’ right to seek unionization.”

Earlier this month, 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.

“We want to be able to stay and build our careers at WHYY without sacrificing our well-being," read a petition signed by 80 percent of workers in the proposed unit.

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Their union campaign comes during a year that’s on pace to be the worst for job loss in the media industry in a decade. It’s also part of a wave of unionization at news organizations of all kinds — newspapers, digital outlets, public media stations, and podcasting companies. In the last month alone, journalists at the Arizona Republic voted to unionize, while those at NBC News Digital and the Miami Herald asked management to voluntarily recognize their union.

Representatives of the 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 unionized to fight for pay equity, benefits like paid parental leave, and other job protections in an industry rife with layoffs and consolidation.

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CEO 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 with WHYY’s nearly $39 million. The WNYC chief executive was paid about $1 million in 2018.

On Oct. 2, when workers went public with their union campaign, journalists asked management to voluntarily recognize their union, instead of requiring them to go through a formal government-run election. Outlets like BuzzFeed, the New Yorker, and the Los Angeles public media station KCRW have recognized new employee unions in the last few years.

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Management declined to do so, saying it was the station’s duty “to ensure that all concerned have access to the facts." This month, it hosted a series of meetings, as is customary in a workplace when employees express interest in unionizing, to discuss the implications of forming a union.

Next up are contract negotiations, which can take anywhere from a few months to years, depending on a number of factors, including the relationship between the two parties. However, before formal negotiations can begin, the union and the management have to reach an agreement on the union eligibility of 11 workers whose inclusion in the bargaining unit is being challenged by WHYY.