Workers at the NPR-affiliated public radio station WYPR have failed to form a labor union. Last week the National Labor Relations Board ruled against several challenges union organizers made to the makeup of the bargaining unit, and that left the union without enough votes to win the election.
"[The Screen Actors Guild/American Federation of Television and Radio Artists] is disappointed with the NLRB decision and we are considering our next steps," a spokesperson for the union says in an email.
Quietly after that, the two sides fought. Management announced that it was aware that many employees did not want a union, and then won the battle by including people in the bargaining unit that the union's organizers did not want, or did not think were pro-union. Among these: Anirban Basu, who hosts the Morning Economic Report and underwrites other programming on the station, and Hugh Sisson and Al Spoler, who produce the wine show "Cellar Notes."
Reached in Providence, Rhode Island, where he is selling beer as General Partner of the Clipper City Brewing Company, which makes Heavy Seas, Sisson says the union effort struck him "out of left field" when Spoler called and asked if he had heard anything about it. It was less than a week before the vote, he says.
"It was kind of awkward," Sisson says. "I showed up to cast my vote, and there were all these super-serious people handling the process. I don't know if they were pro or anti-union."
Sisson, who says he only goes to the station about once every six weeks to record his show, says he has no idea what the issues may have been for the full-time workers who organized the effort. He says his show's producer, Bob White, always seemed happy.
"I was not a likely union voter," Sisson says. "I was a little surprised when we were brought into the mix."
Management also successfully challenged the union's contention that Dan Rodricks and Shielah Kast, who run their own shows on the station, were line workers eligible for union representation. Management contended—and the NLRB agreed—that both personalities were management because they had the effective power to hire people to work on their shows, Midday and Maryland Morning, respectively.
Before the seven challenges were hashed out, the vote count was nine for and 11 against the union. The final tally is unclear, but the union side conceded defeat. The station's general manager, Anthony Brandon, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment, nor did the lawyer the station hired to handle the union, Laura Pierson-Scheinberg of Jackson Lewis, P.C.
"This is a disappointing conclusion that reflects an imperfect process," the WYPR Organizing Committee said in a statement sent via email*. "When we started our union effort, we proposed a bargaining unit that included regular, full-time staff who produce WYPR's programming. A majority of the full-time regular production and news staff still believe that our workplace and work product would be improved by collective bargaining.
"While we certainly think it's important for employees to be compensated justly for their work, this was never the essential tenet of our grievances. We want to work at a radio station that values and prioritizes its locally produced content; that understands the importance of an effective firewall between commercial and editorial concerns; and where all staff feel empowered to raise legitimate concerns without fearing that we'll be ignored, ostracized, or dismissed.
"We are disheartened by management's decision to spend significant station resources to undermine our democratic effort. We hope they will commit as fully to making measurable improvements to the workplace and supporting the production staff. Because a public argument between staff and management could damage the reputation of WYPR and rattle the good faith of our valued listener/members, we will offer no further comment."
*Editor's Note: A previous version of this story credited the statement to an individual at WYPR instead of to the WYPR Organizing Committee. City Paper regrets the error.