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WBUR Contract Wins Overwhelming Approval, A Milestone For New Union

WBUR's Commonwealth Avenue studios
WBUR's Commonwealth Avenue studios

WBUR news and content producers have their first contract. The vote, released Thursday afternoon, was 108 in favor, two against. The three-year deal includes immediate raises for almost half of the bargaining unit, more generous comp time, clear job titles and severance benefits. It took effect immediately.

Union organizers called the vote and the contract's passage bittersweet.

"A couple days ago, I thought we would be celebrating and just overwhelmingly  happy about getting a contract," said WBUR digital producer and union organizing committee member Ally Jarmanning, "but 29 people got laid off yesterday and that's incredibly sad."

The layoffs came as part of a restructuring plan announced Wednesday that station management said will help cut WBUR's budget by about 13%. The laid off employees represent more than 10% of WBUR's staff. Station officials said the cuts are necessary in part because revenues are down during the pandemic.

"The fact that we were able to reach agreement on a first-time contract that both sides can embrace at the very same moment that we're looking at millions in budget cuts is a testament to the good faith shown on both sides of this negotiation," said WBUR CEO, Margaret Low.

Low and the union agreed that the severance package in the contract will be available to 16 union members who are among the 29 employees who've lost their jobs.

The union said 54 employees will see raises; the average is 9.75%. A surprisingly large number of job titles — 88 in all — have been consolidated down to just 19, according to a union member who was involved in the negotiations. Salaried employees will earn comp time for extended days, being "on call" and returning to work after less than 12 hours between shifts. The extended use of temporary employees to fill full-time positions is no longer allowed.

Some union members sought protections based on seniority, but this was not included in the final deal.

Mary Cavallaro, chief broadcast officer for SAG-AFTRA, said the contract creates a clearer daily structure for WBUR journalists which will be helpful during this challenging period.

"No profession has a 9-5 structure any more, but journalists really work almost a 24-7 job," she said, "and if there is no structure, you could have a situation where people are literally working 24-7."

The contract caps two and a half years of upheaval that started when former On Point host Tom Ashbrook was suspended. He was eventually dismissed for creating an abusive work environment. Union organizing began amid frustration about the slow pace of efforts to improve station culture. The station's general manager eventually agreed to leave, and Boston University agreed to share control of station operations with an outside board. That board hired Low, who started in January.

"What's really important to me," said Low, "is now that we've got this done, that we feel like one WBUR and that we are collectively ambitious about our future."


Editor’s note: WBUR’s Martha Bebinger reported this story, and WBUR’s Elisabeth Harrison is the story editor. Under standard practices for reporting on WBUR, no other BU or WBUR staff were allowed to review the story before publication.

Related:

Martha Bebinger Twitter Reporter
Martha Bebinger covers health care and other general assignments for WBUR.

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