By ELIZABETH DONALD
St. Louis Public Radio made history recently as its employees overwhelmingly voted to create the first public media union in Missouri.
Nearly 80 percent of the St. Louis Public Radio Guild members voted in favor of union representation under the umbrella of Communication Workers of America. The vote took place months after management staff and the University of Missouri-St. Louis declined to recognize the union, with 75 percent signing its statement of interest, forcing them into the longer legal process.
“Today we make history, not only at St. Louis Public Radio but throughout the state of Missouri,” said Brian Munoz, photojournalist and multimedia reporter at St. Louis Public Radio, who serves on the organizing committee.
“This monumental step is proof our workers are eager to ensure St. Louis Public Radio is a more equitable and sustainable news organization for the years to come.”
The Guild consists of 37 journalists, producers, on-air talent and marketing professionals, including part-time employees.
CRITICAL TO DEMOCRACY
Tammy Chaffee, district organizing coordinator for Communication Workers of America, said the union is excited to welcome St. Louis Public Radio Guild.
“Journalism is critical to our democracy, and we want to ensure STLPR’s staff has a seat at the bargaining table so they can continue doing their best work,” she said.
During the organizing process, the university – which hosts St. Louis Public Radio on campus – forwarded a document to all employees detailing how things might change if the union were approved. In that document, UMSL directly asked employees to vote ‘no’ in the union election. Yet a higher percentage of employees voted ‘yes’ than signed the initial statement of interest.
“We are excited that the vast majority of our colleagues have recognized the power of strength in numbers,” said Rachel Lippmann, courts and city politics reporter and a member of the organizing committee. “This is a day that has been three years in the making. We look forward to negotiating a contract that makes STLPR an even better place to work, which in turn can only make it a stronger media outlet for the audience.”
St. Louis Public Radio employees moved to unionize after allegations that the workplace suffers from a lack of transparency, few advancement opportunities, high turnover and cuts to benefits and compensation. It has also been subject to allegations of racism in hiring and layoff decisions under prior management.
More newsrooms are choosing to organize in recent years. In the past six years, more than 100 news organizations have unionized, adding 6,300 new members to the NewsGuild and 2,400 journalists to Writers Guild of America East. The unions have pushed for higher minimum salaries, raises, health coverage, greater protections against layoffs and increased severance pay, as well as diversity in newsrooms and eliminating the pay gaps hurting women and minority journalists, according to Nieman Reports.
Legacy news organizations such as newspapers largely do so because of downsizing, going years without raises, and worsening health benefits, according to Labor journalist Steven Greenhouse, formerly of the New York Times, while digital news sites organize to lift salaries, improve benefits and “provide some cushion to the industry’s volatility.”