SAG-AFTRA employees of National Public Radio have warned that they could move toward a strike when the current contract expires Friday night.
The union, which reps about 400 NPR employees, has a launched a “We Make NPR” web site with a countdown clock at the top and the headline, “The future of NPR is at stake.” Talks have been taking place in Washington D.C., with a federal mediator.
Rebecca Sullivan, a member of the NPR negotiating team, said that the contract expired June 30 and has been extended several times over the past two weeks. She told Variety that they union has not yet scheduled a strike authorization vote but may do so if there’s no significant progress at Friday’s session.
The union is objecting to proposal to set up a separate pay scale for newcomers: “Equal pay for equal work. We do not want a two-tier pay system for employees who do the same job.”
Sullivan said that NPR management reasons for the necessity of a two-tier wage scale have been murky.
“It’s been a mystery,” she added. “They have told us that they flexibility in case there’s a recession down the line.”
The contract talks started on April 27. Statements on the new web site have blasted management’s proposal.
“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,” the union said. “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.”
An NPR spokesperson told Variety that the talks have been positive.
“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,” she said. “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.”
The SAG-AFTRA website also includes a letter sent to NPR CEO Jarl Mohn and signed by more than 30 NPR journalists including Melissa Block, Steve Inskeep, Rachael Martin, and Anthony Kuhn. That missive accuses managers of wanting to succeed at “gutting” the SAG-AFTRA contract.
“Everybody will lose – most of all our journalism and the public,” they said. “We are writing to you directly, Jarl, hoping that you will intervene. We need to save the soul of NPR.”
NPR is a non-profit that syndicates its programming to more than 900 radio stations. Its signature programs are “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”
SAG-AFTRA reached a deal on July 4 on its master contract covering primetime TV and feature films, preceded by three 24-hour extensions.