WAMU moves forward with unionization, despite lack of University recognition

Employees hope to address many issues at the public radio station by gaining a seat at the table

WAMU moves forward with unionization, despite lack of University  recognition

The Mary Graydon Center, pictured in 2016. 

Update and correction: This story has been updated to include that the Board of Trustees did not respond to requests for comment and corrected to clarify that employees participate in the election process. It has also been updated with a statement from AU denying that the University is engaging in union busting.

WAMU employees announced Friday that they continue to push for the recognition of their union, after filing a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) earlier this month. 

Staffers at the D.C. National Public Radio station, which American University owns, announced their decision to unionize on Oct. 1, after DCist reported that AU stopped station leaders from firing a reporter accused of sexual misconduct. 

“Department leadership and managers, including at WAMU, have responsibility for disciplinary actions,” said Matthew Bennett, AU's vice president and chief communications officer, in a statement to DCist.

The push also comes amid conversations about the experiences of staffers of color.

In a letter to AU’s Board of Trustees, WAMU staffers requested that the University cooperate in a prompt and fair election process that allowed all non-supervisory content creators a vote. The letter also discouraged an anti-union campaign, calling it a waste of listener contributions. 

The Board of Trustees did not respond for comment.

Ally Schweitzer, a WAMU business reporter and leader of the unionization effort, said that despite these requests, AU is engaging in a “classic union-busting tactic” by arguing over who receives representation from the union. 

“AU is trying to weaken the union by saying that it needs to be smaller, and we are standing firm,” Schweitzer said. “All of these folks who signed our petition all create content, and we cannot make content without them.”

AU spokesperson Lisa Stark wrote in an email to The Eagle on Thursday that "union-busting" allegations against the University are "misleading and untrue."

“The parties are still within the window of time to discuss these issues and AU has not worked to slow anything down, or stymie the union effort in any way,” Stark wrote. 

If employees vote in favor of the union, the University is required to recognize and bargain with them. WAMU employees are unionizing with the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), which represents content employees at NPR member stations across the U.S. 

WAMU employers’ Oct. 1 press release said that 80 members, or 99%, of the radio station’s content staff signed the union petition.

In a tweet, the group stated that WAMU is “grappling with deeply ingrained internal racism” and sexual misconduct allegations, among other issues.

“All of these things have come to the surface in a way they haven’t before, Schweitzer said. “The most effective way, we feel, to advocate for our colleagues, who are incredibly dedicated to the mission of public radio, is to allow us to have a real seat at the table with American University.” 

In a statement to The Eagle on Saturday, AU said it has begun “productive and collaborative conversations” to determine the composition of the union bargaining unit. The University noted cooperative relationships with other employee unions and said it looks forward to reaching an agreement with SAG-AFTRA. 

“As we continue our discussions with SAG-AFTRA, we are also investing significant time and resources at WAMU to ensure we provide a safe, diverse, and inclusive workplace,” the statement continued. “Staff are essential to our mission and we are committed to providing a wide range of support.”

Previous efforts to unionize have dissipated, in part because of the station’s high turnover rate, according to Schweitzer. She said that’s one of many issues that she hopes will be addressed this year if the union is successfully certified by the NLRB.

Stark said that AU remains cooperative amid these efforts.

"Throughout this process AU has shared significant information with the union and provided transparency as to who should be properly included in an effort to reach agreement with the union and move forward with an election," she wrote. "AU hopes this effort to engage with SAG-AFTRA will produce positive results for both sides."

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