Union Prepares for Age Discrimination Battle at Boston’s WHDH

By Andrew Gauthier 

AFTRA is preparing for an age discrimination battle at Boston’s WHDH.

Sunbeam Television, which owns the NBC-affiliate, lost an age discrimination case in August brought against them by former WSVN reporter Marilyn Mitzel and now, as WHDH continues to add more young talent, AFTRA is getting ready for a similar fight in Boston.

“You have to wonder whether they are looking to try to do to the talent here in Boston what a jury convicted them of doing to the talent in Miami, which was fire you on the basis of your age,’’ Tom Higgins, AFTRA’s assistant executive director, told the Boston Globe recently.

Much of WHDH’s staff has been working without a labor contract since last year and a sticking point in the negotiations appears to be a similar issue that has slowed union negotiations in other markets: the skills required of reporters and anchors.

As the methods of TV news production continue to evolve, many stations have asked their on-air talent to do more, including shooting and editing their own stories. While station owners say that this practice is about doing more with less in a shifting media landscape, some critics believe that it is often used as an excuse to swap higher-paid veteran reporters for younger, less expensive journalists.

Age discrimination is “the dirty little secret of this business,” Higgins told the Globe.