Engineers picket Journal offices over contract
A group of WTMJ-TV broadcast engineers, unhappy with ongoing negotiations, took to the streets today to protest what they consider unfair labor practices by Journal Broadcast Group.
The picketers carried signs saying "Why trust TMJ4.com" and "Dirty Dealing," plays on two of the stations' slogans.
The engineers, members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 715, have been working without a contract since March of last year. In September, management declared an impasse and suspended negotiations imposed terms of its final offer.
Local 715 president Chris Albrecht says the company hasn't acted in good faith. In February, Journal Broadcast Group suspended matching contributions to the 401(k) plan and, in March, suspended all retirement benefits. On April 2, the company imposed a temporary six percent wage cut on all full-time, non-contracted employees and asked contracted employees to do the same.
The engineers, however, feel they're being treated differently.
Albrecht says that the company has reduced the engineering staff by 35 percent through involuntary layoffs, assignment mergers and reassignments and plan to reduce the staff by more than 50 percent in 2010. In addition, the workers have been asked to take a permanent pay cut of as much as 10 percent this year with more cuts to follow.
"When we began negotiations for a contract in December 2007, we had 44 union members at the station," Albrecht said during the Thursday picketing session. "They came to the table wanting to strip exclusive jurisdiction and slash our wages because, compared to their non-union stations, we were overpaid.
"So far they've been successful. We've lost 14 people and they've begun wage reductions and by December 2010, there will be a 22 percent wage cut. New hires coming in are paid one-third of what the employee today is making, if they hire anybody."
Local 715 represents approximately 30 broadcast engineers at Journal Broadcast Group's Milwaukee entities: WTMJ-TV (4), WTMJ-AM (620) and WLWK-FM (94.5). The union and company have worked together for 70 years, beginning in the early days of WTMJ-AM.
"We've had a lot of negotiations," Albrecht said. "We might have had, at times, nasty negotiations, but we always came to a contract within a reasonable period of time. This is the first time that we've been bargaining with the employer and they brought in an attorney, with the simple goal of getting as much as they can."
During negotiations last year, the National Labor Relations Board found evidence that Journal Communications violated federal labor laws. Albrecht said that the company further acted illegally when it suspended negotiations.
"We've been successful at the NLRB with some charges and we currently have three others in the works," he said. "Our goal is simply to get the employer to abide by the law. Ultimately, we will continue to seek to reach a contract that both parties can live with."
Requests for comment from Journal Broadcast Group were not returned Thursday.
I'll give these people credit, it takes some serious guts to picket given the economic conditions.
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