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Oregon Public Broadcasting workers join union

Oregon Public Broadcasting workers formed a union on Thursday, joining a nationwide organization for broadcasters.

Reporters at OPB have covered labor organizing in businesses from donut shops to strip clubs in recent years. Now it’s their newsroom doing the organizing.

Workers at Portland-based OPB and KMHD Jazz Radio have joined the Screen Actors Guild -American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

In a press release, SAG-AFTRA said 80% of those content creators, which include on-air hosts, reporters and video producers, signed the petition to unionize. That notice was delivered to management Thursday. Oregon Public Broadcasting listed 206 employees in 2023.

“We request a systemic change that we strongly believe will provide the structure to ensure we are not just consulted but are represented in vital decisions,” read the union petition, “including but not limited to wages, salaries, working conditions and major systems changes.”

Oregon Public Broadcasting CEO Steve Bass confirmed that his company received the petition.

“I want to emphasize that OPB management is committed to maintaining an equitable work environment of mutual respect for all employees, unrepresented and represented,” said Bass in a written statement to staff.

“We have as a union been organizing across the country… And this is an effort that has grown over time organically with workers who are simply seeking a voice at work,” said Mary Cavallaro, chief broadcast officer at SAG-AFTRA.

The union is asking OPB for voluntary recognition. After that, they will work with the employer on a first contract. According to an OPB employee, specific union terms won’t be outlined until later in the bargaining process.

“I'm confident that they're going to voluntarily recognize us, because we share the same goals. We all want to have a great workplace,” said a spokesperson for the union's organizing committee at OPB.

Last year, union membership hit 14% in Oregon. That’s a drop from over 15% in 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and a peak of over 21% in 1989. Oregon is still one of the top 10 states for unionization, which nationwide included only 10% of wage and salary workers in 2023.

Employees at National Public Radio as well as NPR-member stations around the country, such Seattle’s KUOW, Boston’s WBUR and Los Angeles’ KPCC, have also unionized under SAG-AFTRA.

“We hope to collaborate with OPB leadership to increase morale among our colleagues, build on the equity and inclusion efforts in our workplace, and create an environment at OPB and KMHD where every employee has the support they need to thrive,” said employees in the unit in a written press release.

Justin Higginbottom is a regional reporter for Jefferson Public Radio. He's worked in print and radio journalism in Utah as well as abroad with stints in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. He spent a year reporting on the Myanmar civil war and has contributed to NPR, CNBC and Deutsche Welle (Germany’s public media organization).