The organizing committee representing 42 staffers at St. Louis Public Radio presented CEO Tina Pamintuan and the University of Missouri-St. Louis with a statement of interest on Thursday that had been signed by more than 70 percent of the non-managerial employees. The statement invited Pamintuan and the university to voluntarily recognize the St. Louis Public Radio Guild as organized through the Communication Workers of America for collective bargaining.
St. Louis Public Radio is an NPR member station broadcasting from the UMSL campus at Grand Center with transmitters in Quincy and Rolla. The station celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2022.
But the staff has suffered from a lack of transparency, few advancement opportunities, high turnover and continued cuts to benefits and compensation, according to a statement released by the Guild.
“Our communities deserve a strong and stable nonprofit news source that provides nuance, context and understanding to those who live here,” said Brian Munoz, photojournalist and multimedia reporter with St. Louis Public Radio. “Whether it’s triumph or tragedy, our journalists take you on the front lines of the impactful and noteworthy.”
Rachel Lippman has been with St. Louis Public Radio for 15 years, covering local politics and criminal justice. “The union will help ensure that those who are working with me today, and those who follow in my footsteps, are guaranteed the same opportunities to do important work and to be fully supported as they do their jobs,” she said.
ALLEGATIONS OF RACISM
The journey toward unionization began three years ago with allegations of racism in hiring and layoff decisions. In a series of statements published on Medium, St. Louis Public Radio reporters and producers of color alleged systemic racism in the organization, and later 21 staffers signed a letter of no confidence in the UMSL external investigation into the allegations. Then-CEO Tim Eby was removed from his post in late 2020, and an interim CEO ran the station until current CEO Pamintuan was hired a year ago.
Jason Rosenbaum, political reporter and part of the organizing committee, said there have been “incremental and truly positive changes,” but there is still work to be done.
“We’ve all come to the conclusion, including our staff of color, that building a sustainable St. Louis Public Radio requires collective bargaining,” Rosenbaum said. “We can continue the change that has been made through unionization.”
Rosenbaum said among the primary goals of collective bargaining will be to make St. Louis Public Radio into a place that people want to come to work and stay for longer periods of time, fighting significant turnover.
“Creating an environment where people feel valued and feel they have a future here is going to make everything better,” Rosenbaum said. “I think that if all this comes to pass and we are a union, and this union can forge something that can create an environment that makes the staff feel valued… it will help management as well.”
A TOOL FOR BETTER CONDITIONS
Lippmann said she is hopeful the union will be another tool to push for better conditions for all employees, especially colleagues of color. “This has been a long work in progress and we’re excited to take this first step,” she said.
More specific goals will be determined after the Guild is formally recognized. Rosenbaum said they have had positive conversations with Pamintuan and other members of management that he hopes will set a good foundation for future negotiations.
Public response has also been strong, Rosenbaum said. “It’s been frankly stunning how much support we’ve gotten, from people on social media and elsewhere,” he said.
As of Friday morning, the committee had not yet heard from UMSL authorities in response to the statement of interest. “That’s something we’ll be looking for,” he said.