Minnesota Public Radio confirmed this morning that news employees at the station have begun efforts to form a union.
"MPR respects everyone’s right to have a voice in whether or not they want to be represented by a union," said spokeswoman Angie Andresen, "and we’re committed to an inclusive workplace where all employees feel valued and heard."
As of Friday morning, the nonprofit's leaders didn't want to say much more than that. Neither did the dozens of editorial employees who might be brought into a union.
After an initial vote among employees, a petition for a unionizing election was filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) last month. This week organizers received confirmation from the NLRB, and an election is scheduled for May 17. A simple majority — anything above 50.0 percent — would allow for the formation of a union.
The employees' union petition was filed by the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), the same powerful union that represents Hollywood actors.
Employees of MPR's 89.3 The Current music station would not be included in the union.
The fact that MPR's effort is going to a staff-wide vote means the station's management declined to voluntarily recognize the union. That rejection is fairly standard in the media world, with only a few exceptions: In recent years, the Huffington Post and Vice voluntarily recognized newsroom guilds; Gawker and the Guardian US team had to vote to form theirs.
In 2013, KPCC, a public radio station based in Los Angeles, voted to form a union with its 65 employees, despite the objections of some its best known on-air talent. KPCC is owned by American Public Media, the parent company of Minnesota Public Radio.
In a recent email to staffers, MPR CEO Jon McTaggart acknowledged their desire to unionize, but discouraged them from "involving a third party" — a reference to the labor organizers of SAG-AFTRA.
"For nearly 50 years, " McTaggart wrote, "MPR has been and continues to be a progressive employer that attracts, develops and rewards the very best people in public media. While always striving to do better, we have a long track record of being supportive and responsive to employees’ needs and concerns. I believe that, by working even more closely together, we can find a better path that builds on our unique history."
Last summer, MPR surprised staff members, to say nothing of devoted listeners, by laying off 11 newsroom employees, slashing 13 percent of the staff. At that time, executive vice president Dave Kansas told the Star Tribune those layoffs were the result of the company's making "strategic choices about how we’re going to direct our assets and the time that we spend on things.”
We'll update this story as more information becomes available.
Correction: This post originally stated MPR's unionization election would be held Thursday, May 12. It is scheduled for Tuesday, May 17.