Union officials representing employees of WEEK-WHOI in central Illinois returned to the bargaining table this week and are now reviewing a new proposal from Granite Broadcasting that the stations’ parent company says is its “last, best, and final offer.”
Anchors, reporters, photojournalists, and producers at WEEK-WHOI, a NBC- and an ABC-affiliate licensed to Peoria, have been working without a labor contract since February 18th, when the previous deal expired.
A major sticking point in the negotiations between Granite and the local chapter of AFTRA is language surrounding the jurisdiction of local news production. Previous offers have included language that would allow Granite to farm out local news content, something that WEEK-WHOI staffers vehemently oppose.
“We are your friends and neighbors, the team you can count on, but your home team could be outsourced and that’s not a joke,” WEEK-WHOI employees stated in an open letter to local viewers posted on Facebook.
Garry Moore, president of the Peoria chapter of AFTRA and an anchor for WEEK, told TVSpy that union officials are fighting to guard against a repeat of what he refers to as the “Fort Wayne weather debacle.”
According to Moore, Granite Broadcasting, along with private equity firm Silver Point, which controls the purse strings, attempted to farm out WEEK-WHOI’s weather coverage last year to a station in Fort Wayne, IN, which is located roughly 250 miles east of Peoria. A meteorologist from the Fort Wayne station would tape a weather segment at 3:00 that would air during the 6:00 p.m. newscast, a time gap that didn’t allow for adjustments to severe weather. As well, the Fort Wayne-based weather reports often included embarrassing mispronunciations of the towns and neighborhoods surrounding Peoria.
WEEK-WHOI staffers fought back in an effort to keep local news local, and eventually an arbitrator ruled in their favor. Moore called the ruling “a victory for the community.”
“If you thought getting your weather from Fort Wayne was bad,” WEEK-WHOI staffers wrote in the open letter, “just think, if Silver Point gets its way, your entire local news could be outsourced to another city.”
Moore says that Granite has promised AFTRA that they would not attempt that type of outsourcing again but the language that has existed in previous labor proposals would still allow them to.
“Why would any union give management a knife to cut their own throat?” Moore asked pointedly, in talking about the union’s reasoning for rejecting previous offers from Granite that included loopholes for outsourcing.
Granite presented union officials with its “final offer” on Wednesday and, in a press release, Moore said that they’ll be taking “a long look” at it.
“Regardless of what happens, we have learned some valuable lessons from this experience; mainly that the community respects what we do,” Moore said.