Union approves first contract with Cascade Public Media

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Courtesy of Sarah Hoffman

Sara Bernard, a podcast producer and host, David Quantic, a video editor, and Kaitlin Gillespie, an administrative officer for the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild, count the union’s votes at the Streamline Tavern in Seattle.

The union representing Crosscut and KCTS 9, the news site and public television station operated by Cascade Public Media in Seattle, approved its first contract with management Tuesday after more than two years of negotiations.

Unionized employees voted 15-1 to approve the contract, which expires in September 2024. Announcing the deal on Twitter Wednesday, the union’s bargaining committee said the contract is “strong” and provides “much-needed protections” for workers. The union represents reporters, producers, photographers and members of the video and digital teams.

A spokesperson for Cascade Public Media said the organization “is pleased” with the agreement. “We’re proud of and grateful for the contributions our journalists make every day, and we look forward to continuing to tell the stories that inform and inspire our community,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

The contract protects parents from workplace discriminations involving assignments and promotions, according to Beatriz Costa Lima, a video producer and bargaining committee member. And in an effort to increase newsroom diversity — a cause that was amplified by last year’s social justice movements — the contract creates a “Rooney Rule” that requires Cascade to interview people from underrepresented backgrounds for open positions, including management roles.

The contract also calls for a joint guild-management committee and includes new anti-harassment rules and grievance procedures. Additional wins for the union include an amended byline policy and more freedom to freelance for outlets that aren’t direct competitors, Lima said.

The byline policy states that journalists must be properly consulted when stories or captions are substantially changed. In some cases, a journalist may withhold a byline in a dispute over ethics and material facts.

The union did not get everything it campaigned for. In August, employees rejected a proposed contract that included two unfavorable options: a guaranteed 1.5% annual pay increase, or keeping the status quo of allowing annual merit increases of up to 3% after employee reviews. Employees wanted a guaranteed 3% annual increase to offset the rising cost of living in Seattle.

The contract approved this week includes the guaranteed 1.5% annual increase. Lima said employees and management agreed on a progressive pay structure and a flexible paid time off program, which includes a “cash out” option for unused paid time off. “The PTO program was a creative compromise that allowed us to approach both vacation and financial concerns of our members,” Lima said.

Crosscut and KCTS 9 workers are represented by the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild, Local 37082, which is part of the NewsGuild-Communication Workers of America. The union was formed in the summer of 2019, four years after a merger that created Cascade Public Media.

Negotiations over the past two years were tense. Union employees launched a campaign in April that critiqued Cascade CEO Rob Dunlop’s salary and highlighted staff turnover.

Several former and current Crosscut and KCTS 9 staffers voiced their approval of the deal. 

“Happy to see this finally get done on behalf of the hardworking folks at Crosscut,” tweeted David Kroman, a former member of the bargaining unit who left Crosscut last month to join the Seattle Times. “Perfect contract? No,” Kroman continued. “I’m frustrated by how hard management fought us on minor economic differences, but I think it provides a great baseline going forward.”

Margo Vansynghel, a reporter who has been on the bargaining unit, said the approved contract “sets strong standards for the treatment of journalists at large. I’m so proud of what we’ve accomplished.”

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