Crosscut Union pushes for workforce diversity provisions in contract with Cascade Public Media

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The headquarters of Cascade Public Media in Seattle.

Unionized employees at Crosscut, a digital news site operated by Cascade Public Media in Seattle, are pushing for concrete commitments on diversity, equity and inclusion measures as the bargaining unit negotiates its first contract with management.

The unit includes reporters, producers, photographers and members of the video and digital teams represented by NewsGuild, a sector of the Communications Workers of America. When employees petitioned management to recognize their union last summer, they called on Cascade to address issues with compensation and benefits that undercut recruitment and retention of staff.

As contract negotiations continued this summer, provisions to improve staff diversity have become a sticking point. The Crosscut Union and its members have been tweeting about proposals to ensure diversity in recruitment and hiring.

Union employees want management to make good on public statements about addressing racial inequities within Cascade’s workforce and organizational culture. By including provisions on initiatives to make the newsroom more diverse in the contract, they believe leadership will be accountable for these goals.

Cascade Public Media was among the public media stations that responded to the Black Lives Matter movement in June by releasing a public statement on racism. It referenced ongoing protests and acknowledged that “racial injustice is as old as the founding of our nation.” Cascade’s leadership pledged to identify and address “systemic barriers to full inclusion” and work to recruit and retain a diverse staff and board of directors. The statement, issued June 10, also said Cascade’s team should reflect the statistical makeup of the population of the community it serves.

In response to those promises, Crosscut Union proposed contract language that pushes Cascade leaders to do more outreach with regional and national organizations that work with protected and underrepresented classes, including Blacks, Asians, Latinos and Hispanics, women and people with disabilities, said Aileen Imperial, a member of the union’s bargaining team.

Imperial

Imperial, a video producer, also told Current that the union wants language that stipulates that the pool of finalist candidates for any position must include at least two members of underrepresented groups. These requests are a priority for the union, she said, and were proposed before a July 15 meeting of Crosscut employees and management representatives.

During the two-hour meeting, Cascade officials delivered a lengthy presentation that mentioned the importance of diversity but did not address the union’s specific requests.

When Cascade officials and union negotiators met the next day, a lawyer representing Cascade explained that management didn’t want to include diversity provisions in the contract because they would change grievance policies and open a “messy” legal and liability process, according to Imperial. Management’s rationale “didn’t fly well” with the union, she said.

Cascade’s counter-proposal was to keep working with its race and equity committee to address diversity and inclusion concerns and to maintain the status quo on hiring practices, Imperial said. Staffers left the meetings unsatisfied.

Emily McCarty, a reporter for Crosscut, tweeted July 16 “Let’s be real. Words don’t mean much when there’s no actual written commitment. If you talk the talk, walk the walk.” Other union members also reacted on Twitter.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Cascade said the organization does not comment on ongoing union negotiations.

Beatriz Costa Lima, a video producer and bargaining unit member, said management and the union seem to agree that diversity is important. But it won’t make any difference if management isn’t willing to put its commitments in writing.

“If you think about the history of not just newsrooms but of any company ever, when has any of this ever worked without some kind of accountability measure?” she asked. Even the most well-intentioned managers can make empty promises or get sidetracked on goals to make diversity in hiring a priority, she said.

Ana Sofia Knauf, a digital editor and member of the race and equity committee that works with both Crosscut and Cascade’s public TV station KCTS, said on Twitter that putting diversity commitments into a union contract would let colleagues know “that the changes they’re fighting for mean something” and that Cascade “is serious about their commitment to building a better newsroom.”

“For every newsroom, it’s really important to have voices that reflect the communities we report on,” Knauf told Current. “When the newsroom better reflects the people that we’re talking to, the reporting is so much stronger.”

Manola Secaira, who joined Crosscut as its inaugural emerging journalist fellow in 2018 and now works as a staff reporter, said Cascade’s commitment to workforce diversity needs to go beyond inclusion in hiring practices. If new employees are to stick with the organization long-term, managers need to focus on how they treat employees and recognize the value they bring to the company.

Responsibility for improving diversity and inclusion shouldn’t be limited to a handful of managers, said Jen Dev, a video producer. Cascade can make an organizational commitment with the union agreement.

Dev wants Cascade to become a leader on diversity initiatives, she said, not just another media company making statements in reaction to the protests and demonstrations. “I would hate for ours to be one of the many companies who are going to kind of pay lip service to this issue just because of the moment in time that we’re living in,” she said.

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