NBCUniversal and NBC News Digital’s Bargaining Unit Battle in Court Over Company’s Cancellation of Merit Pay Increases

By A.J. Katz 

In May 2020, NBCUniversal chief executive Jeff Shell sent a memo to employees, telling them that while the first quarter was “quite strong,” given how the virus forced the company to shut down theme parks and postpone movie productions, across-the-board reductions were necessary. Shell noted merit salary increases, and stated the increases for employees making more than $100,000 would be cut.

According to THR’s Eriq Gardner, that decision to end wage increases was flagged by an administrative law judge at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) this past February. The administrative law judge named Kenneth Chu concluded that NBCU had violated labor laws by cutting pay increases without giving the NewsGuild of New York an opportunity to bargain. Gardner notes that on July 15, the National Labor Relations Board accepted that ALJ’s decision and ordered the return of merit wage increases for editors, reporters, producers, writers, production assistants and others at NBC News Digital, as well as digital journalists at Today show and MSNBC.

One might recall that on Oct. 30, 2019, journalists from NBC News Digital announced they had decided to form their own union, and that the NewsGuild of New York would serve as their bargaining unit.

In a statement, the NBC News Digital journalists said that the vertical is understaffed and employees are being given more responsibilities “without commensurate pay increases.” The team added that while the company boasts of diversity in hiring, it “falls short of the inclusive culture that retains and promotes a truly diverse newsroom.”

The NBC News Digital journalists went on to win certification for a union after a 90-to-40 vote.

On Thursday, NBCUniversal filed a petition of the order at the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, fighting the administrative law judge’s determination.

NBCU argues to the NLRB that the decision to cancel wage increases for those making $100,000 or more impacted a “fraction” of its workforce and wasn’t designed to “unfairly or unlawfully target union members or to subvert Charging Party’s status as collective bargaining representative.”

From NBCU’s appeal, published by THR: “Instead, that decision was part of a much larger, companywide initiative – which impacted thousands of employees – to cut costs in the face of an unprecedented worldwide pandemic that has had a dramatic negative economic impact on large swaths of the global economy and Respondent’s overall business. Based on existing Board caselaw, Respondent and its News Digital subunit was not required to bargain to impasse over this decision; indeed Charging Party’s demand for preferential treatment on this topic in the face of the thousands of other employees whose salary increases were also rolled back fails as a matter of fact and as a matter of law.”

From THR:

Having been formally ordered last month to cease and desist from changing the conditions of employment at the company, and making the impacted employees whole for loss of earnings during the wage rollback, NBCU is petitioning for appellate review.

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