Conflict at KBOO sparks effort to unionize

KBOO-FM, Portland’s community non-profit radio station, may soon be a union shop. A petition filed April 18 asks the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to conduct a union election to determine whether the station’s 10 employees want to join Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 7901.

Employees contacted the union after the station’s elected board of directors approved [CORRECTION] station manager Lynn Fitch implemented a package of personnel policy changes over which they had no say. Among the changes: Paid maternity leave was cut in half to three weeks; paid sick leave was cut in half to 40 hours a year (and the number of hours of paid sick leave employees could accrue was cut to 40 from 480); and employees were designated as “at-will.”

Eight of the 10 employees signed union authorization cards, and at an April 2 staff meeting, asked the station manager to voluntarily recognize the union. But that didn’t happen. So on April 18, with a mass firing rumored to be in the works, the union asked the NLRB to oversee an election.

The April 22 meeting of the KBOO Board of Directors was packed with union supporters there to urge recognition. But retired letter carrier Jamie Partridge — one of a crew of volunteers who host the station’s weekly Labor Radio program — said the board seemed resolute in backing the changes. Partridge predicts a protracted struggle at the station.

UPDATE, 4/30/13: In an interview with the Labor Press, Fitch, the station manager, disputed any suggestion that KBOO is not a progressive employer. One employee was given permission to bring her infant to work every day, for example. But the station — which was managed collectively by staff for several years prior to Fitch’s hire as executive director last fall — has been in a prolonged decline financially and in listenership.

Given a mandate by KBOO’s elected board to address the decline, Fitch said she set about to bring policies in line with what’s sustainable, legal and standard at other non-profits. Further policy changes are frozen, however, while the union process is resolved. Under federal law, once workers give notice they want a union, an employer is supposed to hold off making changes until it can be determined whether it’s supposed to negotiate those with a union. In most cases, the NLRB holds an election about six weeks after workers request it.

No election date has been scheduled. UPDATE, 5/16/13: A union election has been set for May 30.

To discuss the recent changes, the KBOO board has called a membership meeting for May 4 at 1 p.m., at Tabor Space, 5441 SE Belmont St., Portland.

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