WTTW host sends mixed message on producers’ union effort

Phil Ponce

Phil Ponce

The longtime host of WTTW-Channel 11’s “Chicago Tonight” said he supports the right of producers at the public television station to join his union, but he declined to sign a petition last week endorsing their bid for recognition.

Phil Ponce’s signature was conspicuously absent from a letter to management of the Window to the World Communications station from on-air talent backing the effort to include the 13 full-time and part-time producers in the bargaining unit of the Screen Actors Guild/American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

In explaining his decision, Ponce told colleagues he felt “somewhat bullied” by the attempt to get him to sign and that “signing it would make me feel worse.” He did not identify who approached him or relate what was said.

“Anyone who thinks this makes me non-supportive of the producers would be wrong,” he wrote in an email sent to fellow on-air staffers (and copied to producers). “I have made it clear that I completely support any producer who feels called to join AFTRA. Likewise, as host of the program, I support any producer who does not feel a call to be a part of this effort and assume they have been lobbied respectfully.”

Reached over the weekend, Ponce said he would let his email speak for itself.

Ponce has been a member of the Chicago local of SAG-AFTRA since he began as a reporter for CBS-owned WBBM-Channel 2 in 1982. Like all on-air talent at “Chicago Tonight” he is covered by the agreement between WTTW and SAG-AFTRA.

Ponce succeeded the late John Callaway as host of “Chicago Tonight” in 1999. After a four-year break while Bob Sirott hosted the show, he returned to the top job in 2006.

Here is the full text of Ponce’s email:

Dear AFTRA colleague,
 
I understand that a letter signed by all of us supporting the producers’ unionization effort might be helpful strategically.  At this point, though, the attempt to implement that strategic step has left me feeling somewhat bullied — and signing it would make me feel worse.
 
Anyone who thinks this makes me non-supportive of the producers would be wrong.  I have made it clear that I completely support any producer who feels called to join AFTRA.  Likewise, as host of the program, I support any producer who does not feel a call to be a part of this effort and assume they have been lobbied respectfully.
 
For what it’s worth, I have conveyed to management my support of anyone who seeks to join AFTRA.  That will not change. Also unchanged is the regard I have for all my colleagues professionally and personally — something I try to show every day through heartfelt respect and collegiality.
 
Sincerely,                                                                                                                                                                           
Phil