Business Manager Tony Sapienza
National Boycott Targets WGME-TV 13 over Unfair Contract Implementation
February 17, 2011 - WGME-TV, Channel 13 in Portland is one of almost five dozen stations owned by Sinclair Broadcasting that have been placed on the nationwide AFL-CIO boycott list because of a labor dispute here in Maine. The station unilaterally implemented portions of a contract offer one year ago on February 17, 2010, despite the opposition of the workers and their Union.
As IBEW Local 1837 members at WGME 13 continue to create large profits for parent company Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc., of Maryland, workers behind the scenes have been without a contract since early 2010 while seeing their paychecks shrink – prompting the AFL-CIO to add the company to the federation’s boycott list.
IBEW Local 1837 and Sinclair management negotiated for over a year without reaching an agreement. Last February, as the Union continued to make counter proposals in a sincere attempt to find common ground with WGME, Sinclair declared that negotiations were “deadlocked” and began unilaterally implementing parts of its last contract offer. The company cut pay by as much as 10 percent for the operating technicians, editors, photographers, producers, directors and others who helped the station earn numerous awards for excellence in broadcasting. It also announced other changes, not yet implemented, that would greatly undermine job security for all members of the bargaining unit and threaten the viability of the union itself.
IBEW Local 1837 has filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board. NLRB Regional Director Rosemary Pye has found that Sinclair violated the law by coercing employees when they were demonstrating against Sinclair’s bad-faith bargaining, and the NLRB is still considering the legality of one of the company’s unilateral changes.
IBEW 1837 Organizer Matthew Beck, a television director at WGME 13 for nearly 20 years, said the station isn’t losing money – but its owners think their workers should be paid less:
“If Sinclair came to us across the bargaining table and told us that they were hurting, we would work with them to figure out how to keep the station viable. If a wage cut is what it took to preserve members’ jobs, we would consider that. But that clearly wasn’t the case. They said at the table that they have no problems with money. They just decided that our members were getting paid too much.”
A largely non-union company, Sinclair owns, operates or provides services to 58 stations across the country in 35 markets. Last week, Sinclair released fourth quarter earnings showing another jump in profitability and their stock price hit a new high for the year.
"2010 ended on an even stronger note than originally anticipated with record levels of political advertising helping to drive net broadcast revenues up 23.5% in the quarter," said David Smith, Sinclair President and CEO in a company news release. "For the year, excluding political, revenues from our core television business finished up 12.0% led by the automotive recovery. We expect to see continued improvement in our core advertising, driving our top-line in 2011.”
In recent filings with the SEC, Sinclair also reported that they increased corporate compensation by several million dollars in 2010, compared to previous years.
“Workers have a right to collectively bargain for a fair contract, but Sinclair doesn’t seem to get that,” said Matt Schlobohm, Maine AFL-CIO Executive Director. “This is an all too common story these days: corporate profits hitting record levels and corporate CEOs getting record bonuses while workers see their paychecks cut and are asked to do more with less. Sinclair is looking to bolster their bottom line on the backs of Maine workers. On behalf of the 30,000 working men and women of the Maine AFL-CIO, we urge all Mainers to support workers at WGME 13.”
In the run-up to Maine’s 2010 gubernatorial primaries, all of the Democratic candidates pulled their ads from the station to send a message about the WGME’s unfair treatment of workers. The workers at WGME 13 have held several public demonstrations in response to the Company’s unfair implementation.
“IBEW members at WGME 13 have done great work for this station for many, many years,” said IBEW 1837 Business Manager Cynthia Phinney. “That work has helped make WGME 13 one of the premiere stations in Maine and throughout the Sinclair chain. We hope that people in our community and throughout the country in cities that Sinclair serves will take their business elsewhere until Sinclair offers a fair deal to their workers here in Portland.”
More than 500 people have supported WGME employees by “liking” their Facebook page.
A website for the workers has also been established at www.wgmeunfair.com.