After workers from nonprofit online news site Crosscut and local PBS affiliate KCTS 9 petitioned for recognition as a bargaining unit under the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild, management declined to voluntarily recognize them as a union.
Leadership from parent organization Cascade Public Media was notified of the efforts Monday morning after a card vote last Tuesday showed almost 90 percent support for a union, Crosscut staff reporter David Kroman said. However, according to a statement sent to newsroom staff by senior vice president and chief operating officer Rebecca Farwell later that day, Cascade will not voluntarily recognize the campaign.
“Because not every employee who may be subject to union representation is included on the mission statement submitted today, we decline to voluntarily recognize the union,” Farwell wrote in an email sent to approximately twenty staffers.
Staff have already filed a petition for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and hope to hold it by the end of the month, said Crosscut staff reporter Lilly Fowler.
In a separate Cascade statement circulated to news media that did not mention the declined recognition, the organization confirmed that the Guild had filed a petition for election. The management said it will respond to the petition and follow all the procedures.
Fowler said that “we were really hoping that they would voluntarily recognize us, because we do have the votes in support of the union. So either way we’re going to get there … I think it’s disappointing and short-sighted on their part.”
Fowler speculated that the employees referenced in Farwell’s email as being subject to representation but not included on the statement are the about 10% of workers who didn’t support unionizing in the card vote. But 100 percent support would be unrealistic, she said, adding that they “need to do what’s best for the majority here, and what the majority wants.”
Cascade spokeswoman Kelsey Tomascheski said that the organization is still reviewing NLRB paperwork and could not provide additional comment on which workers were being referenced.
Fowler said staff have been discussing unionization for about six months but did not go public with the effort until Monday morning, when they asked for the voluntarily recognition as a bargaining unit.
“The CEO [Rob Dunlop] was not in the office, and neither was the other person just underneath him [Farwell] … so we pretended we were Martin Luther and we taped the mission statement to their doors,” Fowler said.
The Crosscut and KCTS union effort hopes to have Local 37082 of the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild, a branch of The NewsGuild — Communications Workers of America — represent them. The local also represents many advertising and news staffers at The Seattle Times.
Crosscut and KCTS workers, clad in red NewsGuild T-shirts, presented the mission statement in person to executive editor Victor Hernandez.
“He took it well, I’ve got to say,” Fowler said. “He smiled and almost, like, kind of congratulated us. So it went well.”
Hernandez did not respond to a request for comment.
Kroman said, “I think we are going to have a lot of conversations as a group in the coming weeks and months about what we want our contract to look like and some of the things we’d like to see remedied.”
In his personal opinion, he added, ongoing pressures on the media make it important that staff “have a place at the table” amid discussions about the future of the industry, including around issues like benefits and living wages.
“We’ve had a lot of growth, which is great,” Fowler said, “but we want to make sure that we don’t grow too fast and that we’re taking care of our people while we become more prominent in the region.”
The Crosscut and KCTS proposed bargaining unit aims to include “approximately 20 reporters, producers, video editors, digital staffers and photographers,” according to a news release by staffers. It would not include people with “supervisory duties,” such as those determining pay, hiring and firing, Kroman said.
Cascade stated in their news release that “our organization respects the rights of individual employees to form a collective bargaining unit, and we are committed to a fair and open process for all.”
Crosscut was founded in 2007 by Seattle Weekly founding editor David Brewster. In late 2008 it announced plans to switch to a nonprofit model, and in 2015 it merged with KCTS 9 as the public broadcaster sought to expand its digital reach. The merger led KCTS Broadcasting to legally change its name, becoming Cascade Public Media.
The NewsGuild — Communications Workers of America reports representing 25,000 media workers. The NewsGuild described the Crosscut/KCTS campaign as one in a string of recent unionization efforts, including at Pitchfork, Quartz, the Center for Public Integrity, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune and others.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated when Cascade Public Media staffers voted in support of a union.