The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and NBC-owned Telemundo station WSNS(TV) Chicago agreed last week to hold an election April 2 to enable the station's eight on-air employees to choose or reject AFTRA representation.
If successful, the election will create a bargaining unit for the Telemundo station separate from that at NBC-owned WMAQ-TV. AFTRA had gone through the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) process seeking a single unit for both.
The union said it withdrew from that position because complications regarding the ownership of the station and current separate location of the employees (who will, however, be merging into WMAQ-TV facilities) would make it difficult to win.
Through a technicality, WSNS is not completely owned by NBC or corporate parent General Electric, although Telemundo is. WSNS ownership includes interests held by at least three other local and out-of-state corporations.
AFTRA's Chicago Local Director Eileen Willenborg said that, should the union be successful in representing WSNS employees separately from WMAQ-TV, it would not be barred from seeking to unite the two units later. That might be easier to do, she said, when the two stations are co-located.
Since NBC's purchase of Telemundo, AFTRA has tried aggressively to gain recognition as the station talent's bargaining unit without an NLRB election. It offered as evidence of support a unanimous petition and a unanimous election supervised by local religious and community leaders.
AFTRA also lobbied various community leaders, including Chicago city officials and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, winning resolutions of support that also opposed major differences in compensation between the Spanish-speaking Telemundo employees and the English-speaking talent at WMAQ-TV.
Although Telemundo's talent is paid less than those at the NBC O&O, NBC says that the differences are related to the employees' belonging to separate businesses with vastly different levels of revenue and that ethnicity and language have nothing to do with it. NBC also notes that, since the takeover, corporate parent General Electric has improved benefits for all Telemundo employees.
Willenborg said the union will be watching closely for labor-practice violations during weeks before the election. NBC has said it will not stand in the way of its employees choosing representation.
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