University of Missouri System, UMSL denies voluntary recognition of St. Louis Public Radio Guild

Management at St. Louis Public Radio and the administration of the University of Missouri-St. Louis have refused to voluntarily recognize the new St. Louis Public Radio Guild, forcing the new union into an election process.

The organizing committee representing 42 staffers at St. Louis Public Radio presented CEO Tina Pamintuan and UMSL with a statement of interest that had been signed by more than 75 percent of non-managerial employees. They invited the management staff to voluntarily recognize the guild as organized through Communication Workers of America for collective bargaining.

St. Louis Public Radio is an NPR member station broadcasting from the UMSL campus with transmitters in Quincy and Rolla.

The Guild announced on Jan. 19 that St. Louis Public Radio leadership and the university leaders officially declined to voluntarily recognize the union. This means the committee will have to go through a lengthy legal process with the state and conduct an election for formal recognition of their union.

Committee member Rachel Lippmann said it was a “disappointing but not surprising” step by the leadership.

“We believe the university does not want to set a precedent for others who might want to unionize,” Lippmann said. “We are not surprised that they’re having us take additional steps.”

Those steps include conversations about who will or will not be included in the unit, as the definition of “manager” is sometimes flexible in a newsroom where individuals may assign stories to other journalists but not conduct employment reviews and make employment decisions.

Once those decisions are made, an election will take place, once they can show more than 30 percent of eligible employees intend to support it.

“We do know it will be a secret ballot election at some point,” Lippmann said.

The statement of interest indicated at least 75 percent, which holds high confidence that the union will pass. “We will vote and we will win,” Lippmann said.

The Communication Workers of America has already filed a petition for the election with the state on their behalf, but Lippmann said it could be a lengthy process depending on UMSL’s response. “The union has said they have seen it drag on for weeks, months, years… or we know they can move this on,” she said.

One question that the union organizers have heard often from supporters of St. Louis Public Radio: Should they withhold their donations to the nonprofit news organization given this decision?

The answer, Lippmann said, is unequivocally no. Cutting off donations to the radio station would “work at cross purposes” to their intent, which is to make St. Louis Public Radio an equitable and sustainable public service.

“We understand that impulse,” Lippmann said, but said Labor supporters can continue to support them on social media without reducing their financial contribution, which she said would be “an unnecessary escalation.”

St. Louis Public Radio organizers have said their 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.

If approved, St. Louis Public Radio Guild will be the first unionized public radio guild in the state of Missouri.


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