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WYPR unionizing effort in limbo

Employees of WYPR, Baltimore’s NPR station, are making an effort to unionize.

But the status of that effort is unclear and seems to be in limbo. The station’s employees recently voted on the issue, but the vote is being challenged.

An election was held July 30 to decide whether the employees of Your Public Radio Corp. would join SAG-AFTRA, the Screen Actors Guild — American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Ballots were counted Aug. 5, but there are objections and challenges on both sides of the issue.

Nine employees voted in favor of unionizing and 11 against, according to two sources familiar with the vote who asked not to be identified. But seven more votes on either side have been challenged, under the argument that certain voters should not have been included in the bargaining unit.

The National Labor Relations Board Regional office confirmed these numbers.

There were 29 eligible voters. Of those, one person abstained and one vote was voided.

The seven challenges were enough to affect the election results, so the NLRB will investigate the contested votes. Meanwhile, both WYPR and the union have filed objections to the voting process.

“Until this matter is completed, we are not making any comments,” said a SAG-AFTRA spokesperson.

WYPR employees are not commenting on the issue either. They released a statement through SAG-AFTRA in June, announcing their petition filed with the National Labor Relations Board to form a union. The petition asked WYPR’s management to recognize the organization and begin negotiating a contract.

In that statement, the employees said that an overwhelming majority of WYPR public-media professionals were behind the petition.

“The editorial staff at WYPR is deeply committed to the work that we do. We believe in the value of public radio, as well as WYPR’s mission to produce high-quality journalism,” the statement said. “We want to see the station continue to grow and better serve listeners across the state. We believe that a unionized editorial staff, working with station management and the board is the best way to do that.”

According to the petition, 21 employees would be joining the union. That includes full-time, part-time and freelance hosts, reporters, producers, analysts and new media professionals. It would not include clerical employees, managers, guards or supervisors.

But even defining who fits into those categories has been tricky. WYPR has a number of employees that fill various roles at the station and in other organizations.

For instance, a hearing was held before the vote to determine whether Dan Rodricks and Sheilah Kast should be considered supervisors — WYPR says they are, but the union disagrees.

Both Kast and Rodricks host shows on WYPR — Maryland Morning and Midday, respectively. But the NLRB decided that both hosts also fill supervisory duties such as hiring, rewarding or disciplining other employees, which would exclude them from union membership.

The union requested a review of that decision. The NLRB denied that request, but agreed to allow Rodricks and Kast to vote.

A hearing date to address the vote objections has not been announced.