Staffers at WAMU and WBGO seek recognition of unions

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Staffers at WAMU in Washington, D.C., and WBGO in Newark, N.J., filed petitions this week seeking their management teams to voluntarily recognize their unions. 

The petition at WAMU was signed by 99% of eligible staff, or 80 employees, according to a Thursday press release. The unit would represent content staffers. At WBGO, 75% of eligible staff, which also consists of employees who work with content, signed the petition, the group said on Twitter.

Employees at WAMU and WBGO have both raised concerns about racism and other workplace issues in the last year. WBGO CEO Amy Niles resigned in January following an internal review about employee concerns. WAMU GM JJ Yore resigned in August amid staff criticism over his handling of employee misconduct.   

“Over the years I have seen and heard of the uncomfortable and sometimes oppressive environment in several departments of WAMU,” said Kojo Nnamdi, longtime host of WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi Show, in the release. “WAMU needs to prioritize racial and gender equity. It also desperately needs its own Human Resources process that fits a radio station rather than a university.”

According to a report by WAMU’s DCist news site, HR and legal teams for station licensee American University overruled Yore’s attempts to fire a former reporter who had been accused of sexual harassment. 

The WAMU union is also seeking an “equitable and inclusive workplace, where workers are compensated fairly and transparently,” the group said in the release.

“In my six years at WAMU, I’ve felt deeply inspired by my colleagues’ commitment to the mission of public media. But I’m disturbed by the number of talented people who leave the station each year, often because they feel unappreciated, overworked, under-compensated and even abused,” WAMU reporter Ally Schweitzer said in the release. “The professionals who make WAMU a trusted leader in regional journalism deserve better.”

Three female journalists of color told Current in July that they had left the station because of their treatment by a senior managing editor.

In a statement provided by a WAMU spokesperson, American University said it is “reviewing the correspondence and will be determining next steps.”

The WBGO employees said in their petition to management that they “demand accountability, transparency and integrity from our employer. We seek transparency and equity in compensation. We want all of our colleagues protected—from our youngest workers to the most senior staffers. Most importantly, as WBGO grows and changes, we hope to foster a culture in which workers feel safe, trusted and appreciated, where our ideas are recognized and our concerns are respected.” 

The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists is representing both groups. 

Current is an editorially independent service of the American University School of Communication.

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