August 27, 2009
/ by Lauren Bigge
New positions at NBC clash with union rules
Several NBC-owned-and-operated stations around the country are restructuring their newsrooms, with some employees being forced to take on new titles. This past year, the network instituted the new roles of “content producer” and “platform manager,” but staffers are finding themselves reapplying to do the same job – without the benefits of union representation.
While the legality of NBC’s actions is being questioned, NBC staff members have little choice but to comply with the reassignments. Jim Joyce, vice president of the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians-Communications Workers of America (NABET-CWA), said in a press release earlier this month that while the work the employees are performing supposedly isn’t changing, they are being made to reapply as content producers, a position which does not include a union contract. The approximately 200 employees that could be affected by the change would be paid on salary, without overtime, Joyce told inVocus. “We believe they’re acting unlawfully,” he said.
Remember the good old days of media work, when you applied for and then got the job with clearly defined responsibilities? NBC staffers throughout the country are finding that to be a distant past.
In Jan. 2009, news producers, writers and editors at NBC’s WMAQ-TV in Chicago found out they had to reapply for the new and ambiguous content producer and platform manager positions.
At WRC-TV in Washington, D.C., a new contract with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists allows the station to consolidate writing and editing jobs. According to an article in the Washington Post, those with the title of content producer provide news not for only the television broadcasts, but for other platforms as diverse as Web sites, mobile devices, stadiums and even TVs at gas station pumps.
It comes as no surprise that the National Labor Relations Board started investigating complaints by NABET that NBC’s stations in D.C., New York, Chicago and Burbank, Calif., are involved in union busting. Joyce told inVocus charges were officially filed against NBC in February.
“It’s a very complicated matter,” said Joyce. It’s anyone’s guess as to when or how this dispute will be resolved, he added. Possibilities include a court trial, fines, a settlement, or resetting of the positions to their original status if the National Labor Relations Board declares that NBC has violated the National Labor Relations Act.
NBC Universal’s vice president of corporate and media relations, Liz Fischer, told inVocus that NBC will not comment on “internal conversations.” E-mails to one dozen NBC staff members, including producers, managers and writers, went unanswered.
Despite the legal questions surrounding title changes at NBC, the concept of shifting job titles to fit a variety of duties speaks to the media’s changing landscape as it ventures further into the uncertain possibilities of digital, online and social media platforms. In fact, titles at some newspapers over the last several years are just as ambiguous, with “team leaders,” “systems editors,” “print platform managers” and “online platform managers” taking over some newsrooms. Whether it is a continuing trend in other media types remains to be seen in an ever-evolving industry.
— Lauren Bigge
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