Washington state’s Public Employment Relations Commission has dismissed a complaint of unfair labor practices filed by SAG-AFTRA against Puget Sound Public Radio news/talk KUOW-AM/FM Seattle. Filed in June 2018, the union alleged that the station unlawfully discriminated against employees when it reorganized staffing during its drive-time news programming.
In an April 2018 shuffle less than two months after station employees joined SAG-AFTRA, KUOW eliminated seven positions and created seven new positions, according to The Current. It encouraged employees in the eliminated positions to apply for the new positions and retained three of them. SAG-AFTRA claimed that the layoffs were retaliation for employees joining the union and stemmed from anti-union sentiment among station management.
The Washington State Commission, however, ruled that SAG-AFTRA failed to prove its allegations and that KUOW provided legitimate nondiscriminatory reasons for its handling of the situation. “It is not the Commission’s role to second guess KUOW’s decisions on how to run the programs and the station,” the decision said, as reported by The Current.
The claim alleged that station management “interfered with, restrained, and/or coerced public employees” in their right to collectively bargain, as Inside Radio reported. In April, morning host Emily Fox, newscaster Lisa Brooks and producers Rob Wood and Stephen Gomes exited, while afternoon host Kim Malcolm, newscaster Jamala Henderson and producer Tami Kosch were let go as their positions were eliminated. The station promised to create seven new positions and encouraged the recently dismissed employees to apply.
“Our position has not changed; the drive-time restructure was decided upon well before the petition to unionize occurred; there is no connection between the two,” KUOW GM Caryn Mathes told The Current then. She said that Malcolm, Kosch and Gomes were hired for three of the new positions that were created, and that Wood continues to work for KUOW as an hourly employee. All but one of the employees let go in April applied for the newly created positions.
“There was no net loss of SAG-AFTRA represented positions; seven new bargaining unit positions were created to replace the seven positions that were eliminated,” Mathes told the publication. “All of these union positions are being paid at the same or higher level than the previous positions.”
SAG-AFTRA has the option to appeal the decision. A union spokesperson did not return an email seeking comment from The Current. Meanwhile the union and Puget Sound Public Radio parent the University of Washington are negotiating a contract for KUOW. The parties have tentatively agreed to terms defining overtime work and allowing temporary hourly employees to fill in for up to six months when a union position is vacant. The parties are still negotiating over compensation.