Labor tensions are escalating at WBBM Newsradio 780-AM and 105.9 FM, where workers are putting public pressure on management to provide raises, especially for those who earn only minimum wage.
The employees, members of the Writers Guild of America, East, said management has held fast against demands for raises for assistant producers, who make the $12-per-hour city-mandated minimum. That amount is due to increase to $13 an hour on July 1 under city ordinance.
“It’s very disheartening,” said Shereen Mohammad, a news assistant producer and traffic producer who serves on the union’s bargaining committee. “We all came here with prior experience. The job requires a college degree and people have student debt. Yet it feels like they’re treating us like interns.”
The union’s three-year contract expires Monday. To mark the occasion, workers plan to publicize their grievances by carrying signs and distributing fliers just outside the station’s studios at 180 N. Stetson Ave.
Union leaders said the next bargaining session is scheduled for May 9.
WBBM is one of more than 230 radio stations owned by Entercom Communications, which also has five other stations in the Chicago market. Reached late Thursday, and Entercom spokeswoman declined to comment other than to say the company is in ongoing dialogue with the union.
Michael Isaac, business agent with the union, said other labor groups are expressing their support. He regards as significant a tweet from the NFL Players Association voicing solidarity because WBBM carries the Chicago Bears.
The Chicago Federation of Labor, which represents more than 300 local unions, sent a letter to Entercom calling for it to address “abysmally low wages paid to assistant producers.”
Signed by President Robert Reiter Jr. and Secretary-Treasurer Don Villar, the letter demanded “a living wage for all of the talented people who bring us the local news.” The CFL is a part-owner of the Sun-Times.
The negotiations involve Writers Guild members at WBBM and two other all-news stations owned by Entercom, WCBS in New York and KNX in Los Angeles.
“They have budged a little on wages for the other two stations, but for ‘BBM it’s been a hard ‘no,'” Mohammad said. A source close to Entercom disputed that description, saying it has proposed raises for all Writers Guild members.
The Writers Guild represents almost 30 news writers and assistant producers, mostly part-time, at WBBM. Another union, SAG-AFTRA, represents on-air personnel and digital producers at WBBM and is negotiating a contract to replace one that expired about a year ago, said Craig Dellimore, the station’s political editor and first vice president at SAG-AFTRA in Chicago.
Last week, media columnist Rob Feder reported that WBBM was the top billing radio station in the Chicago market for 2018, collecting $39 million. But Feder said the station’s billings were down 13.3 percent since 2016.
For the first quarter of 2019, Entercom reported a swing to a profit from a loss compared with the same quarter last year. The company said its net income was $3.13 million on a 3 percent increase in revenue, to $309 million.