Sinclair Broadcast gives employees bonus after federal tax bill passes

Just as President Donald J. Trump signed the Republican tax overhaul into law Friday, Sinclair Broadcast Group joined a swelling wave of prominent companies in announcing that it would share the largesse of the corporate tax cuts with its employees.

The Hunt Vally-based broadcasting giant said it would give $1,000 bonuses to 9,000 full- and part-time employees nationwide, most but not all of its workers.

The law, which passed the House and Senate earlier this week in party-line votes, slashes the corporate tax rate and reduces taxes for individuals until 2026.

“We are grateful to our president and legislature for passing the landmark Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and are excited about the benefits it will provide for our country’s economy, our company, and our employees,” Chris Ripley, Sinclair’s president & CEO, said in a statement. “We recognize that our employees are our most valuable resource, truly appreciate their combined achievements for our company and look forward to a very bright future.”

The tax bill lowers the corporate tax rate to 21 percent from 35 percent and is being touted by Republicans as a boon for the economy.

In response to the law’s passage, a number of large companies, including AT&T, Boeing, Comcast, Fifth Third Bancorp, GoDaddy and PNC, have said they would increase pay, make investments or offer bonuses.

The corporate steps gave Trump a positive talking point for the legislation, which has been polling poorly amid sustained criticism from Democrats who say it heavily favors corporations and the rich.

Trump crowed about the giving spree in a Friday morning tweet:

“Our big and very popular Tax Cut and Reform Bill has taken on an unexpected new source of ‘love’ - that is big companies and corporations showering their workers with bonuses. This is a phenomenon that nobody even thought of, and now it is the rage. Merry Christmas!”

Like many of the businesses, Sinclair is poised to benefit from actions taken by the Trump administration. The Federal Communications Commission eased ownership rules that will smooth Sinclair’s effort to take over Tribune Media Co., a $3.9 billion deal that would cement Sinclair’s place as the nation’s largest broadcaster.

Tribune Media was formed in 2014 when Tribune Co., then the parent of The Baltimore Sun, split its broadcasting and publishing divisions into separate companies. The broadcast division became Tribune Media, while the publishing division, including The Sun, became Tribune Publishing, renamed tronc Inc. last year.

Consumer groups have criticized the FCC’s moves and the Sinclair-Tribune deal for overly concentrating ownership of broadcast television stations in too few hands, a move they argue is bad for the public. The FCC (and Sinclair) has said it would allow broadcasters to better compete in the digital age.

Sinclair has been criticized for years for requiring its stations to air news stories with a conservative bent. In December, the company denied reports that it had made a deal with the Trump campaign to provide favorable coverage in exchange for access. The broadcaster called those stories misleading and said it had offered the same opportunities to both major candidates.

Bonuses at Sinclair will go to full- and part-time regular employees at all of its stations and subsidiaries, but not to senior-level executives, officials announced in a press release. But the money will not go to union employees in negotiations, according to an internal memo obtained by The Baltimore Sun. Several unions represent workers at Sinclair stations, and some currently do not have contracts.

The company declined to comment beyond its release.

Not everyone saw good intentions from the company’s offer of bonuses to workers.

Timothy Karr, senior policy director for Free Press, a consumer advocacy group that opposes the Sinclair-Tribune merger, said his concern was that by offering bonuses, “Sinclair is attempting to further bias staff ... toward supporting the Trump agenda.”

Others, including those at the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank, have noted that several CEOs have said they did not plan to invest in their companies but rather would give more money to shareholders.

In a statement about the legislation, the institute said there is little evidence that the bill’s benefits will trickle down to working people or that corporations as a whole will do much more than give more money to shareholders and executives and not spur wage growth or boost corporate investment.

But Todd Eberly, a political scientist at St. Mary's College, said most of the public would take the bonuses from most companies at face value.

He said that would include people who believe Sinclair has provided support for Trump and conservative causes and also may know that it has business in front of the administration.

“Quite a few companies announced they were doing this; Sinclair wasn’t the only one and they weren’t even first,” he said. “And I can’t imagine Sinclair needed to curry any more favor with the Trump administration. I think they are already in good favor. ...I’m not sure this gets them anything but good coverage.”

He said the bonuses certainly would be welcomed by workers at all the companies that are offering them, especially considering that wages have been mostly stagnant despite a strong economy.

“Bonuses,” Eberlysaid, “are a good thing for those who get them.”

meredith.cohn@baltsun.com

twitter.com/mercohn

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
48°