Union accuses KUOW of unfair labor practice

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A union representing staffers at KUOW in Seattle has filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the NPR station and its licensee, the University of Washington, over its handling of layoffs last year.

The claim, filed in June, alleges that KUOW management’s decision to eliminate seven positions in April “interfered with, restrained, and/or coerced public employees” in their rights to collectively bargain. The university is disputing the claim.

The two sides appeared in a Washington State Public Employment Relations Commission hearing Thursday. A decision could take up to 15 weeks, KUOW GM Caryn Mathes told Current.

When KUOW Chief Content Officer Jennifer Strachan announced the layoffs last April in a memo to staff, she said that management’s plan to reorganize drive-time staffing was intended to “deliver more distinctive, rigorous news programming.”

“Our position has not changed; the drive-time restructure was decided upon well before the petition to unionize occurred; there is no connection between the two,” Mathes said in an email.

KUOW eliminated positions held by hosts Emily Fox and Kim Malcolm, newscasters Lisa Brooks and Jamala Henderson and newsmagazine producers Tami Kosch, Rob Wood and Stephen Gomes.

The staffers were encouraged to reapply for seven new positions the station created under the restructuring. Malcolm, Kosch and Gomes were each hired into new jobs. Wood continues to work for KUOW as an hourly employee, not in one of the new positions created for drive time, Mathes said. One of the laid-off staffers didn’t apply for a new job, she said.

“There was no net loss of SAG-AFTRA represented positions; seven new bargaining unit positions were created to replace the seven positions that were eliminated,” Mathes said. “All of these union positions are being paid at the same or higher level than the previous positions.” Six of the jobs were filled by KUOW employees, she said.

The complaint said that “At least one member of management indicated to SAG-AFTRA represented employees that this reorganization was a result of the union organizing campaign and election.”

In the complaint, SAG-AFTRA seeks a “make-whole remedy” for the employees who were “improperly terminated from their employment in retaliation for the exercise of their rights guaranteed by” Washington labor law. It also wants UW to “cease and desist from interfering with KUOW employees’” collective bargaining rights.

The Washington State Public Employment Relations Commission certified the union of KUOW staff in February.

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