Shutdown stalls union bid at WBEZ

Alison Scholly

Alison Scholly

(This post has been updated to include a statement received late Sunday from SAG-AFTRA.)

The federal government shutdown is delaying an effort by editorial employees of WBEZ FM 91.5 to secure union representation through the Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

Thirty-nine staffers at the public radio station presented a petition late last month to Alison Scholly, interim CEO of parent company Chicago Public Media, seeking recognition of SAG-AFTRA as their bargaining agent. The move was first reported by the public media website current.org.

But nothing can happen until the request is accepted by the National Labor Relations Board, which has been shut down since Oct. 1. Once the petition is accepted, the NLRB may proceed by scheduling a union authorization vote.

Scholly referred a request for comment to Vanessa Harris, marketing director of Chicago Public Media, who said: “While we take all our employees’ concerns seriously, we don’t comment on personnel matters publicly.” The 39 people who signed the petition were from a total of 123 full-time employees, Harris noted.

Inquiries to employees were referred to Leslie Simmons, assistant national director/communications for SAG-AFTRA, who provided the following statement:

“On September 25, an overwhelming majority of Chicago Public Media (CPM) public-media professionals delivered a petition informing management they had formed a union. The petition asks CPM management to recognize SAG-AFTRA as their representative and begin negotiating a contract that sets standards for their pay, benefits and work conditions. CPM management has not yet recognized the union.

“As CPM continues to grow and evolve, its public-media professionals want meaningful input in the vision and future of the organization. They are proud to work for CPM and to be part of the organization’s growth in recent years. The union aspires to make CPM’s stations and digital services the leading regional institutions for journalism and community conversation, as well as to serve as a model nationally.

“In Chicago, SAG-AFTRA represents content creators at the area’s leading news outlets, including WBBM-AM, WLS-AM, WTTW-TV, WLS-TV, WMAQ-TV, WFLD-TV, WGN-TV and WBBM-TV.

“SAG-AFTRA resulted from a 2012 merger of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. The union represents more than 165,000 media professionals, including content creators at nonprofit public media organizations such as NPR, WNYC in New York City, KQED in San Francisco and others.”

The move comes as the board of Chicago Public Media is conducting a nationwide search for a new president and CEO to replace Torey Malatia, who was forced to resign last July after 20 years at the company. Scholly, who has been chief operating officer since 2010, is serving as interim CEO until the position is filled.