Gray TV in Labor Dispute with Employees of North Dakota Station

By Kevin Eck 

New_Gray_304Three former employees of Gray Television’s newly purchased Bismarck, N.D. FOX affiliate KNDX are at odds with the station group over why they are now without jobs.

The Bismarck Tribune reports, Gray says the employees’ positions were eliminated as part of the company’s planned consolidation of its newly purchased North Dakota stations. Gray recently consolidated the stations by transferring the programming of some and selling off the licenses of others.

The employees say they were fired when they asked Gray for more money.


Gray Television sent a letter to the Fox station employees on July 25, about a month after the sale closed, informing them the stations would “cease operations” and some positions would be eliminated as a result of the consolidation.

Three master control room operators said plans changed when the company learned it would not be able to move its transmission dish without reinforcing the roof of its downtown Bismarck building. They were told they would likely remain employed through the end of the year but lost their jobs anyway after trying to negotiate for higher wages.

“Gray announced several months ago that on September 15, it would be consolidating the local NBC and Fox stations into a single, more efficient operation to better serve our local viewers,” Gray said in an emailed statement. “We proceeded with that consolidation yesterday, and, as a result of the consolidation, several positions were eliminated, including those held by these three employees. We promised this summer to extend a generous severance package to all employees effected by the consolidation, and we honored that promise yesterday.”

One of the operators, Tim Cunningham, said the events played out differently.

Cunningham said he and the other two operators were called into a meeting with Gray representatives on Sept. 4, after being informed that they would “probably keep their jobs through the winter.”

At the meeting, Cunningham said, the three employees were offered a $1 per hour raise.

“We were fairly low paid over there,” he said, adding he made $10.75 per hour after six to seven years of working at the station.

Because of the increased cost of living in Bismarck-Mandan, the operators submitted an “at will” employment contract asking to negotiate new wages. Cunningham said the operators asked for wages between $18 and $20 per hour and told the company they would not return to work until negotiations took place.

After submitting their proposal, Cunningham said the operators were told it was “not going to happen” and that the meeting was over.

Later that same day, Dick Heidt, general manager for KFYR-TV and Gray, gave each of the operators a letter stating Gray “respectfully declines to recognize you as the bargaining representative for any group of employees in the absence of a valid election and to enter into your proposed agreement.”

Cunningham said he and the other operators responded in a letter citing provisions in state law stating it was the employees’ right to represent themselves and an unfair labor practice for a company to refuse to bargain collectively. On Sept. 8, the three employees protested in front of the station.

Since being terminated Monday, Cunningham said he has not yet decided whether he will sign the severance agreement offered by the company or whether he will file a complaint with the North Dakota Department of Labor and Human Rights.