WTTW, striking workers agree on a contract

Members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers will return to work Friday after ratifying an agreement that expires in July 2025.

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Mayor Lori Lightfoot (center) joins others in applauding a speaker at a rally March 21 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, joined a rally March 21 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 file

Public television station WTTW-Channel 11 and members of the electricians union have agreed on a new contract that ends a three-week strike.

The 23 striking employees overwhelmingly ratified the deal in an online vote Thursday and will return to work Friday, said Brett Lyons, business representative for Local 1220 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Lyons said the new contract expires in July 2025.

“There were significant ‘gives’ to the company” on issues involving union work jurisdictions, a major issue in the strike, Lyons said. In return, the union got a “healthy economic package” and guarantees to hire full-time unionized staff to address worries about future job losses, he said.

Lyons said the contract provides a 3% pay hike upon ratification and 2.5% annual raises in July of each year through 2024. He said there also is a signing bonus and a stipend.

It was the first strike in the IBEW’s nearly 70-year history at WTTW, a PBS affiliate owned by Window to the World Communications.

A station spokesperson said, “Throughout this negotiation, we placed the highest priority on negotiating in good faith, taking care of our employees and ensuring that all information we communicate is factual. WTTW has a long history of supporting and employing unions, whose skills and talents have been a critical part of the fabric of our organization and our service to the community for decades. We are a firmly pro-union organization. 

“The terms of our new contract, effective today, embrace change and new ways of working, are critical to our collective and continued success, will protect and create jobs and are in line with the contracts of other media companies across the city and the country.” 

The strikers lost their company-provided health coverage once April arrived. The WTTW spokesperson said the workers will be eligible to be reinstated for health coverage and will be reimbursed for payments made to the federal COBRA insurance program.

The spokesperson said the insurance termination was required by the provider’s rules and was not a decision of WTTW management.

Local 1220 Business Manager John Rizzo said, “It has been a very difficult last 10 months with this company across the table, but we have achieved our ultimate goal, which was to reach a new contract that was fair for the members. Our mission was to protect jobs and jurisdiction for both current and future generations of workers employed at WTTW. We feel this was the best agreement possible given where both sides started in May 2021.”

The strikers drew support from Mayor Lori Lightfoot and other politicians who vowed not to appear on WTTW’s main news program, Chicago Tonight, for the duration of the walkout. The program has been running in a shortened half-hour version. The politicians joined the IBEW members picketing outside WTTW’s studios, 5400 N. St. Louis Ave.

Once the walkout began, both sides called on the other to make the first move in negotiations. Lyons said the union got an overture from management last week. He said bargaining resumed Tuesday and wrapped up Wednesday at the Holiday Inn in Skokie. Workers were briefed on terms Wednesday night, he said.

Rizzo used a PBS slogan to express gratitude for the public support. “In true PBS style, I would say that the overwhelming support for the workers on strike was made possible by viewers like you. Thank you,” he said.

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