Radio stations¡ new owners not fans of unions

Managers at three Portland radio stations seem to think a change in ownership can help them toss out the union that represents their workers.

Seattle-based Fisher Communications announced in May its $44 million sale of country station KWJJ-FM and talk radio station KOTK-AM to media giant Entercom. But the sale must be approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) before it becomes official.

The two stations’ 21 workers are members of Portland-based International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 48. Prior to the union contract expiring Dec. 1, IBEW business representative Clif Davis contacted the stations’ management to set up bargaining. But with the sale still in progress, each company claimed it was not the owner of the stations and, therefore, not responsible for negotiating a new contract. The union filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

Then on Oct. 7, morning news and public affairs director Charles Knopf filed a petition with the NLRB to decertify the union. That request, which could lead to a vote among employees, is on hold because the agency must first rule on the union’s complaint. In addition to failure to bargain, the union charges that the stations have failed to honor contract provisions covering sick pay and vacation.

At the same time Davis pursues those charges against Fisher (and Entercom), he’ll need to bargain with Fisher — for a first contract for four satellite truck engineers at KATU Television. The four voted Nov. 12 to join Local 48, which represents a similar group of workers at KGW-TV.

Meanwhile, Davis says management at the non-commercial station KBPS-FM is refusing to recognize the union now that Portland Public Schools (PPS) is in the process of selling the station license — for $5.5 million — to KBPS Public Radio Foundation, a private non-profit formed by classical music fans. [The district will retain ownership of the studios next to Portland’s Benson High School and the license for the station’s student-run AM broadcasts.]

The contract that covered five workers at KBPS had no successor clause, but the new owners are keeping all the former staff, Davis said, so they’re still obligated to bargain for a new contract.

Not only did PPS fail to notify the union before it announced the sale in June, but station managers refused to deal with Davis as the workers’ representative, instead inviting workers to bargain as individuals for their new wage and benefit package.

The transfer of ownership doesn’t officially take place until Dec. 16, so the union filed unfair labor practice charges against the school district with the Oregon Employment Relations Board.

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