KGW returns to labor peace

By Don McIntosh

A long-festering union dispute at KGW-TV has come to a close. At the Portland NBC affiliate, 26 camera operators and editors represented by IATSE Local 600 ratified a new union contract March 22 — more than two years after their old contract expired. They’re the last of three KGW units to reach agreement. IBEW Local 48, which represents 17 control room operators and technicians, settled in September 2016, and SAG-AFTRA, which represents on-air workers like TV reporters and anchors, settled in February 2016.

The three contracts are the first set to be signed with KGW’s new owner. Gannett, the giant newspaper chain that owns USA Today, acquired KGW-TV with its 2013 purchase of Belo Corporation, and then spun off its broadcasting holdings in 2015 as a new publicly-traded company, Tegna, Inc.

On camera and off, KGW-TV is a union production. Above, IBEW Local 48 member Brian Matthews prepares the set of the Portland Today show. (Photo by Donna Hammond, courtesy of IBEW Local 48)

Tegna alarmed unions with an unusual contract demand: eliminate the union “jurisdiction” clause, which says that the unions represent all station employees who do their kind of work. Without that clause, nonunion workers could be brought in to do the same work as union members, but under different terms. Tegna owns 46 television stations in total, and has pushed the jurisdiction proposal at other union-represented stations.

“I never believed their [union jurisdiction] proposal had anything to do with running a TV station,” says IATSE representative Dave Twedell. “I think from the beginning it was about busting the union.”

Tegna negotiators said the proposal was about giving the station the right to use amateur video shot by members of the public.

SAG-AFTRA agreed to Tegna’s non-exclusive jurisdiction proposal; so did IBEW 48 — but only if all three unions agreed to it. IATSE held out.

In the end, with the help of federal mediator Julie Kettler, IATSE and Tegna reached agreement March 16 after Tegna dropped the jurisdiction demand. In turn, IATSE Local 600 agreed that the station could broadcast amateur video from members of the public, as long as it maintains its current staffing level of 17 camera operators.

IATSE’s new contract runs through April 1, 2020, and provides for three 2 percent across-the-board annual raises plus a $1,250 signing bonus equivalent to a 1 percent retroactive raise for the two years that workers were without a union contract. Camera operators’ current wage is $30.61 an hour, while editors make $26.86.

In the new IBEW contract, members — who had gone without raises in recent contracts — got $1,000 signing bonuses and immediate wage increases of $1.80 to $2.50 an hour, to be followed by 2 percent increases each Aug. 29. The wage scales now top out at $30.57 to $35.20 an hour, depending on specialty.

Union TV in Portland

Of five full-power broadcast television stations in Portland, three have at least some union-represented employees:

  • KATU (ABC) — IATSE 600
  • KOIN (CBS) — NABET-CWA Local 51
  • KGW (NBC) — SAG-AFTRA, IATSE Local 600, IBEW Local 48.

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