St. Louis Public Radio staffers form union after successful vote

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Greg Munteanu

St. Louis Public Radio's headquarters.

Staffers at St. Louis Public Radio have formed a union with the Communication Workers of America following the results of a vote that closed Thursday night.

The results of the election with the Missouri Department of Labor’s Mediation Board were announced Friday morning. Nearly 80% of eligible staffers voted in favor of STLPR becoming the first public media organization in Missouri to unionize. The poll opened Wednesday.

“Today’s victory falls within a larger trend of news organizations unionizing ‘nonstop’ across the country, following the steps of those with long-time union contracts such as National Public Radio and The New York Times,” the union said in a news release Friday.

According to the release, the union consists of 37 positions, including “full- and part-time non-managerial journalists, producers, on-air talent, and marketing professionals.”

“This monumental step is proof our workers are eager to ensure St. Louis Public Radio is a more equitable and sustainable news organization for the years to come,” said Brian Munoz, a STLPR photojournalist, multimedia reporter and organizing committee member for the St. Louis Public Radio Guild, in the release.

Tammy Chaffee, a district organizing coordinator with the CWA, said in the release that the union is “so excited to welcome the St. Louis Public Radio Guild to our union.”

“Journalism is critical to our democracy and we want to ensure STLPR’s staff has a seat at the bargaining table so they can continue doing their best work,” Chaffee said.

The STLPR Guild said it is celebrating its win but is seeking more from the University of Missouri System. According to the guild, the university “excluded business, events and support staff who are critical in daily station operations from the proposed unit. This was part of a larger anti-union campaign where the University’s attorneys argued the excluded members’ contributions differed ‘on the nature of work and other relevant legal criteria.’” 

The employees informed management in January of their intent to form a union. At the time, staff shared a statement of interest with STLPR CEO Tina Pamintuan and UMSL. More than 75% of the proposed bargaining unit signed the statement.

Staffers said in a press release at the time that there were “issues at the station that, in aggregate, and over time, have eroded our strength as a non-profit news organization: a lack of transparency, few advancement opportunities, high turnover and continued cuts to our overall benefits and compensation.”

“We recognize the progress the station has made around diversity, equity and inclusion over the last couple of years,” staffers said in the January release. “Our actions today affirm those gains and underscore the need for that good work and behavior to be codified as a means to continue pushing it forward.”

The guild will now negotiate a contract with station leaders, licensee University of Missouri–St. Louis and the University of Missouri System.

“Our focus now turns to negotiating with the University of Missouri System for a contract that emphasizes and safeguards competitive salaries, benefits, and workplace protections,” said STLPR political correspondent Jason Rosenbaum, a member of the Guild’s organizing committee, in the release.

“A healthy news organization is an organization that can best serve its community,” said STLPR health reporter Sarah Fentem, a member of the organizing committee, in the release. “If workers don’t feel supported — financially or otherwise — they leave. I hope the union will foster a workplace where employees can have long careers here. Longevity is important to local news, because historical and institutional knowledge translates to better and more nuanced local coverage.”

“St. Louis Public Radio remains committed to working collaboratively and productively with all employees as well as the university to continue our award-winning local and NPR news,” a University of Missouri System spokesperson said.

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