July 13, 2017

As promised, SAG/AFTRA, the union that represents more than 400 on-air and off-air workers at National Public Radio, published a website Thursday complete with a countdown clock timed to Friday midnight when the temporary extension of the current contract expires.

The union says, “The Future of NPR is at stake.” And Becky Sullivan, a union shop steward and a member of the bargaining team, says she will not rule out the possibility of the union calling for strike authorization if there is no agreement by this weekend.

Here’s a GIF of the clock:


The union raised the temperature of its public comments Thursday saying:

The management of NPR and their latest contract proposal seeks to tear apart fundamental workplace rights and benefits SAG-AFTRA members fought hard to establish. It threatens the core of NPR’s mission by devaluing the work of the people who have helped bring record audiences across NPR’s platforms, as is frequently touted by the same executives.

Today, we have seen double-digit growth across all platforms, as well as a budget surplus. This is in spite of the executive ranks who have failed to secure the funding necessary to continue to allow NPR as a whole to innovate and grow.

The new website includes a statement from NPR Arts Critic Bob Mondello: “The mind reels — or rather unspools. NPR’s audience is up and its revenues high because of the uniquely creative work we do, and management wants to reward us by gutting our contract. If this were a movie, who’d believe that?”

Wednesday night, NPR executives released a statement to Poynter:

NPR and SAG-AFTRA are having productive discussions with the assistance of a federal mediator and continue to work toward a mutually satisfactory agreement that meets the needs of NPR’s employees and our operations. Our goal is to make this organization economically sustainable for the long-term – and, importantly, enable NPR to invest more resources in expanding audiences, innovating its multi-platform journalism, and adding newsroom staff to meet that growth and support current staff.

Sullivan told Poynter that two issues are at the center of the standoff.

“They are trying to lower salary minimums,” which she said would allow NPR to pay new hires less. And, she said, “they are really trying to weaken the power of the union. They want to write in more flexibility for outside people to do union work and take away the union’s ability to file a grievance.”

The union’s new website also includes a letter sent to NPR CEO Jarl Mohn and signed by NPR journalists including big on-air names like Melissa Block, Steve Inskeep, Rachael Martin and Anthony Kuhn. Here’s the letter:

Dear Jarl,

We write to you as NPR’s staff members who have been on teams that won the duPont and Peabody awards in recent years – awards that have demonstrated some of NPR’s finest work and helped place the network among the top media companies in the country. Obviously many of our colleagues have won hundreds of other respected awards, too; others in the newsroom may not be listed on a plaque but they’ve done just as much to build NPR. We’ve done this work with a fraction of the resources of other media corporations.

And we’ve done this work, and NPR’s stature and audience have grown, while most of us were serving under the SAG-AFTRA contract. Members of your management team seem to believe that NPR has become the revered media company it is – a company that they boast about serving – despite that contract. They misunderstand NPR’s history and culture: NPR has become great partly because of our labor-management contract. The contract has ensured proper working conditions, collaboration and collegiality, and an atmosphere of mutual respect. That culture is one of the main reasons we choose to work here. That culture attracts some of our youngest and newest talents, from diverse backgrounds.

Of course, any contract can be updated or improved. We assume that the managers negotiating this contract have good motives and have the company’s best interests at heart. But we’ve been shocked by their efforts to in effect rip it up.

We know that your goal is to leave this company on a sound footing for the future. We’ve been delighted by your focus on promoting NPR’s brand, on expanding the audience, on delivering great journalism, and improving relations with member stations. But if your managers succeed at gutting the SAG-AFTRA contract, as they appear to be trying to do, they will do long-lasting and perhaps permanent damage to the culture that has made NPR, well, NPR. Everybody will lose – most of all our journalism and the public. We are writing to you directly, Jarl, hoping that you will intervene. We need to save the soul of NPR.


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Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
Al Tompkins

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