WAMU’s SAG-AFTRA union secures first contract

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WAMU building

Sasha Fernandez/Current

WAMU's building in Washington, D.C.

WAMU’s bargaining unit has signed its first contract with American University, licensee of the Washington, D.C., station. 

The contract comes nearly two years after employees at the NPR news station voted unanimously to join the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists union. 

In a Tuesday tweet, the union said the three-year contract includes guaranteed raises, new salary floors, protections and pay equity for part-time employees. It also stipulates that job ads for union jobs will specify the minimum salary and secures a seat on the station’s DEI committee for a union representative. 

The 55-member bargaining unit includes reporters, hosts, producers, engineers and content creators. Since voting to join SAG-AFTRA in 2020, the bargaining unit has shrunk from 84 members. Jordan Pascale, WAMU’s transportation reporter and a union steward, told Current that unit membership decreased for several reasons: temporary contracts weren’t renewed and some positions within the unit are currently vacant. In addition, WAMU ended production of the Kojo Nnamdi Show, its long-running midday program.     

A SAG-AFTRA spokesperson told Current that the WAMU unit did not lose positions. There has been “significant staff turnover in the last year and a half, which is why negotiations focused heavily on finding ways to retain talent,” the spokesperson said. 

“We are pleased with this positive result following a constructive bargaining process,” WAMU management and American University said in a joint statement. “This agreement provides for significant investments in compensation, transparency and professional development that will enhance the staff’s sense of belonging and thriving at WAMU.”

In their Oct. 1, 2020 petition seeking recognition of the collective-bargaining unit, the employees pointed to problems at WAMU that included “deeply ingrained internal racism,” high turnover among women of color, disparities in compensation and a lack of protections for temporary employees. 

In its Tuesday tweet, the union said, “The concerted effort to make WAMU a great workplace doesn’t end here.”

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

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