Editorial, Opinion

EDITORIAL: WBUR’s unionization will defend the working rights of journalists

WBUR, which is owned by Boston University, has taken a step forward in the fight for workers’ rights. The radio station’s journalists voted Wednesday in favor of unionizing with an overwhelming 73 votes in favor and 3 against.

Employees at WBUR can now negotiate a contract through the union, according to a statement by SAG-AFTRA, and union leaders said they may begin negotiating a contract in as little as one to two months.

In late January, organizers petitioned WBUR and BU to form a union. The petition was signed by 80 percent of the employees who expected to join the new bargaining unit. However, the university rejected the petition, spurring the need for an election.

If BU is forming committees to enshrine free speech on campus, they should be supportive of unions that promote free speech in the organizations they own.

The WBUR organizing committee and the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists said in a joint memo they wanted “transparency and equity in compensation, a more diverse and inclusive workplace and protections for freelancers and temporary workers.”

Boston University has had issues with unions in the past. In the fall, the union that represents Boston University’s security officers, janitors and maintenance staff protested to demand a better labor contract with the school.

Yet the purpose of unions is not solely to protest or strike — the purpose is to even the playing field when it comes to negotiating more equitable benefits and pay. We will always approve of efforts to improve workplace equity and to hold employers accountable.

“We fully respect the rights of our employees to make informed choices about their employment,” WBUR General Manager Charlie Kravetz and BU Senior Vice President Gary Nicksa said in a joint statement in a WBUR article. “We look forward to continuing to work collaboratively to ensure that WBUR is a place where all employees can thrive and do their best work at Boston’s premier public radio station.”

WBUR employees will join SAG-AFTRA, which currently represents many radio news organizations including NPR, New York’s WNYC, Chicago’s WBEZ, Seattle’s KUOW and Pasadena’s KPCC.

Though discussion of unions can stir up controversy and mixed opinions, WBUR’s unionization should be met with support. SAG-AFTRA functions much differently than public unions, such as teacher’s and police officer’s unions.

For example, while WBUR certainly works for the public good, it is not funded by taxpayers.

BU is renowned for its communications school. As such, it should be dedicated to supporting students and workers in the field. In a time when news organizations are laying off journalists seemingly every month, the importance of advocating for free speech and representation must not be overlooked.

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