Unions Battle with KGW Owner Gannett Over New Contract
Wednesday, October 28, 2015
In bargaining with the stations four unions, Gannett is pushing to get rid of the clause on union jurisdiction. This would mean that Gannett, who's broadcast arm, Tegna, owns and operates KGW, would be able to fire employees who were hired as union members and replace them with non-union employees, who make far less than their union counterparts.
There are three unions that represent KGW employees; SAG-AFTRA represents on-camera staff, IATSE Local 600 represents camera operators, and IBEW Local 48 represents control room operators and technicians. They have formed a coalition to fight back against Gannett’s demands, saying that if the media giant gets its way, it could prove disastrous for the people of Portland.
Dave Twedell, business representative for IATSE Local 600 and the coalition's spokesman, told GoLocal that a change to the jurisdiction clause would pave the way for the station to diminish the quality of news by using work from non-professionals.
“When there are floods, fires or other natural disasters, civil unrest, whatever the situation, the news provides a public service, it’s the best way for people to find out what is going on and for public officials to get information out,” Twedell said. “It becomes a matter of public safety. If there are amateurs producing that content, that information is more likely to be incorrect or cause a public safety issue.”
“Not Just Assets”
According to labor groups, Gannett’s rationale for abolishing the idea of union jurisdiction over news gathering work is to allow amateurs to produce programming for its news broadcasts.
“They would be able to bring anyone in to do our jobs, and you couldn’t prevent that,” Brad Anderson, executive director of SAG-AFTRA in Seattle, which represents KGW employees, told GoLocal.
Twedell said that local governments rely on television personnel to get vital information to the public. Recently, the Oregon Legislature passed House Bill 2210 that formalized this reality and coined a new term, “First Informer” to complement “First Responders.” This gave a set of privileges and responsibilities such as access to blocked-off areas and training for how not to interfere with police and firefighters during a crisis.
“These stations aren’t just assets that should be used to make money,” Twedell said. “They are supposed to provide a public service, and if they start cutting qualified staff for cheaper amateurs, then they aren’t doing that.”
Twedell said that he finds it especially ironic that KGW, which was “once considered an essential part of the community, is attempting to shirk this responsibility.”
“Before Gannett, KGW was always an integral part of the community,” Twedell said. “I think it’s very ironic or even hypocritical to watch their fall to what they’ve become.”
Twedell also said that he believes that Gannett may have plans for the station’s that do not include continuing to produce and broadcast content.
License holders will have the opportunity to turn off their on-air broadcast feeds and earn millions of dollars from broadband internet companies looking to use their bandwidth to provide internet connections in an FCC licensed auction early next year. If Gannett decides to turn off their feed, they could make more than $93 million, according to a list of auction prices released by the FCC earlier this week. Twedell said he suspects Gannett may be looking for the quick paycheck.
“When Gannett bought KGW and a lot of other stations a year ago, they spent $1.5 billion. If they were to sell all of those stations, they would make a $1.7 million profit on that investment in less than three years,” Twedell said. “We suggest that they are not serious about broadcasting or maintaining the tradition of KGW as a public service. Carl Ichan is a big investor of theirs and he’s known for liquidating investments and making a quick profit.”
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