Judge: radio station staff cuts unlawful

Radio personality Dianne D. Chase plans to eventually return to the airwaves at Classic Hits Z93 after a judge ruled that her employer violated labor laws when it dismissed her and other hosts in 2018.

But her employer, Stephens Media Group, which owns Z93 and Froggy 97 in Watertown and 1340 WMSA in Massena, as well as other stations in New York, Oklahoma and Washington, plans to challenge the ruling.

The National Labor Relations Board and Stephens Media have been entangled in an eight-month legal battle over the company’s decision to lay off multiple radio personalities, including Ms. Chase, from its Watertown stations, cut hours for part-time personalities and fire David Romigh from 1340 WMSA, all in 2018.

The Watertown layoffs followed issues with contract negotiations between the company and the union representing the hosts, the Local 51024 chapter of the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians-Communications Workers of America. Mr. Romigh was accused of insubordination.

Charles J. Muhl, an administrative law judge with the board, found that because both Stephens Media and the union had not reached a valid impasse in contract negotiations, the company’s decision to lay off three Watertown hosts, eliminate weekend shifts and reduce work hours for part-time hosts violated national labor laws. He also determined that the insubordination claim against Mr. Romigh was unfounded, and his termination unlawful.

The judge, therefore, ordered Stephens Media to “restore all terms and conditions of employment” for the affected workers at the union’s request, save any changes that benefitted workers that the union does not request to be reversed, thus offering positions to the radio hosts who lost their jobs and the weekend slots and hours that were eliminated to part-time hosts. The company must compensate affected workers for any financial losses and tax consequences that resulted from their employment termination or loss of hours.

The National Labor Relations Board will review the judge’s motion and decide whether to affirm it or request modifications, a process that could last a year or longer, said Ronald Gabalski, a staff representative of the national union. The process could result in a long wait before Ms. Chase and other affected hosts can return to the local stations, unless Stephens Media hires them back beforehand, Mr. Gabalski said.

Ms. Chase, who also serves as president of the local union chapter, said she was happy the judge not only ordered that Stephens Media rehire the workers who were let go and brought back cut hours, but also that affected hosts “will be made whole again.”

The radio personality and union president said she was unaware whether other affected hosts would return to their posts. In addition to resuming her hosting duties at Z93, Ms. Chase said she also looks forward to returning to contract negotiations with Stephens Media, although she was also uncertain about when they would resume.

“I want to thank the local (union) members and all other unions in the area that stood behind us,” she said.

The judge claimed in his order that representatives of Stephens had interrogated Watertown employees about their union activities, altered the employment status of single union members and bypassed the union, which should be the exclusive collective bargaining representative, to negotiate with individual members, actions that prompted a cease and desist.

Mr. Romigh faced accusations of “spreading rumors” about the general manager for the north country stations, Glenn Curry, when Mr. Romigh informed union employees about a harassment investigation into Mr. Curry and subsequent requirement for Mr. Curry to participate in anger management training.

The Massena radio personality, however, serves as a union steward, thus the judge found that him informing union colleagues about the investigation and anger management training was protected conduct, and his termination, as a result, was unlawful. The company was also found to have refused “to meet at reasonable times with the union” for contract negotiations.

David P. Stephens, owner of Stephen’s Media, said his company plans to appeal unfavorable portions of the ruling. The judge found that the company had not engaged in surface bargaining, which Mr. Stephens said he found encouraging, along with comments about the credibility of witnesses from both sides.

The company still employs union workers, and Mr. Stephens said they have not had a contract since 2018. He said the union has refused to return to the table to form a new agreement.

“Negotiations can begin today, but the union has refused to negotiate. They have refused to negotiate with us since October” of 2018, he said. Stephens Media purchased its north country radio stations in 2008.

“What we’re looking for in negotiations on the other side is to get an agreement ... that fits in 2020, not 1980.”

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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