Striking employees of WTTW draw politicians’ support

Mayor Lori Lightfoot urged the station to reach a fair contract with members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and end a strike that began last week.

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot (center) joins others in applauding a speaker at a rally Monday outside WTTW’s studios. To her right are Don Villar, secretary-treasurer of the Chicago Federation of Labor, and U.S. Rep. Marie Newman, D-Ill.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot (center) joins others in applauding a speaker at a rally Monday outside WTTW’s studios. To her right are Don Villar, secretary-treasurer of the Chicago Federation of Labor, and U.S. Rep. Marie Newman, D-Ill.

David Roeder/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and other politicians turned out in support Monday of striking workers at WTTW-Channel 11, calling on the station to negotiate a fair contract that preserves union jobs.

“There can be no question that Chicago is a union town,” Lightfoot told pickets outside WTTW’s studios, 5400 N. St. Louis Ave. “And as we’ve seen over and over again, there’s immense power in people coming together and working and making sure that workers’ rights are affirmed.”

Roughly two dozen members of Local 1220 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers walked off the job Wednesday after what they said was a year of company proposals to assign their duties to nonunion labor. They also said the station has not responded to requests to resume bargaining.

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But WTTW said in a statement that it “stands ready to return to negotiations with the bargaining unit’s representatives as soon as possible. As of now, they have not approached the company to resume negotiations.”

IBEW member Juan Carranza, a station engineer, said management has proposed 31 instances in which a lower-paid nonunion worker can handle duties traditionally assigned to the union. The IBEW has negotiated contracts at the station since the 1950s, previously without striking.

“We’re trying to preserve jobs for the next generation that’s coming up,” Carranza said. The strikers include technicians, graphic artists and floor crew members.

John Rizzo, business manager at Local 1220, said WTTW has allowed union membership to decline through attrition while hiring more nonunion employees. “They just want to phase IBEW out,” Rizzo said. “Everybody else is OK because they get a lower [pay] rate.”

In a statement last week about the strike, WTTW characterized its contract proposals as an attempt to modernize language in light of new technology. “Bringing our IBEW contract up to date — to ensure that it is comparable with other media contracts across the city and country — is imperative, will allow us to use current and future technology and will protect jobs,” the station said.

WTTW is owned by the nonprofit Window to the World Communications.

U.S. Rep. Marie Newman, D-Ill., spoke in support of the strikers and at least three aldermen attended the rally. Greeting rallygoers were two versions of the Scabby the Rat inflatable balloons used at labor events as statements about management greed.

Union workers said the strike has forced the station to run shortened versions of local programs “Chicago Tonight,” “Black Voices” and “Latino Voices,” relying on segments produced before the walkout. A station spokesperson said it will continue its local shows and news coverage.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot with John Rizzo, business manager at Local 1220 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, at a union rally Monday.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot with John Rizzo, business manager at Local 1220 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, at a union rally Monday.

David Roeder/Sun-Times

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