A ruling of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) earlier this week ordered CNN to reinstate more than 100 unionized contract TV workers who lost their jobs in a 2003 restructuring of the 24-7 network — as well as to compensate hundreds of workers who lost pay as a result of the upheaval.
CNN, as it turns out, isn’t too eager to do those things. It has sought review of the NLRB decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Asked for comment on the petition, which doesn’t lay out its appeal arguments, a CNN spokeswoman replied: “CNN disagrees with the NLRB decision and we have filed an appeal in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.”
The move allows CNN to at least delay the rather immediate impact of the NLRB order, which gave it just 14 days to offer employment to the 100-plus former contractors who’d lost their jobs. It also ordered CNN to cover the lost earnings and benefits of those former contractors as well as the ones it eventually hired as full-time CNN staffers. The workers in question were employees of an outfit known as Team Video Services (TVS), whose primary purpose in the world was to provide the technical muscle for the news gathering activities of CNN’s New York and Washington bureaus. Employees at TVS were represented by the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians-Communications Workers of America (NABET-CWA).
CNN’s appeal disappointed NABET-CWA President Jim Joyce: “We had hoped that CNN now, after getting two significant findings, would do the right thing,” noted Joyce, referring to this week’s NLRB decision as well as a 2008 ruling by an administrative law judge whose conclusions were supported by the board.
The decision by CNN to rid itself of the unionized contract workers came in 2003. A press release called TVS “a fine company that had done an excellent job running its business and meeting the needs of CNN.” Yet CNN wanted something different, something non-unionized. An “antiunion animus,” noted the NLRB, motivated the reorganization plan. After ending its contracts with TVS, CNN indeed went on a recruitment spree, hiring back some of the TVS workers and other applicants to work in-house at CNN, without union representation.
That all sounds abstract. The NLRB decision, however, contains salary numbers that reveal how CNN saved itself some employee overhead in the switchover. The dismissed TVS employees that CNN hired as in-house workers, it notes, earned $3,000 to $30,000 less than they’d pulled in their new positions. Some examples: Onetime TVS White
House field technician David Bacheler got a slot at CNN as a “senior photojournalist studio operator” with a pay cut of $10,000 to $30,000. Stacy Leitner, who was a studio technician under TVS, became a media coordinator with a pay cut of $5,000.
Here’s a list of things that these employees lost once they left their unionized workplace: “CNN eliminated bargaining unit employees’ contractual premiums, including meal penalties, paid lunch hours, holiday pay, and doubletime pay after working 7 consecutive days. CNN also changed the unit employees’ leave benefits by replacing TVS’ policy of carried-over annual and sick with a use-it-or-lose-it-within-28-days sick and personal leave policy,” notes the NLRB ruling.
At its crux, the NLRB ruling holds that CNN operated a joint employment arrangement with TVS in supervising the workers. CNN big-footed TVS on the workers’ terms of employment, including “staffing levels, wages, hours, overtime, and training,
among other things,” argues the majority decision signed by NLRB Chairman Mark Gaston Pearce and member Kent Y. Hirozawa. In a dissent, NLRB member Philip A. Miscimarra challenged the joint-employer finding, arguing that CNN didn’t have “any direct and immediate control over the TVS employees’ terms and conditions of employment.”
Joyce says that while CNN seeks another hearing of its case, the back-pay liabilities will continue to pile up. The case has stretched out over 11 years, after all, and “some of these people are each due several hundreds of thousands of dollars,” says Joyce. “This gets CNN more firmly entrenched in terms of how much money they’re going to have to shell out.”
Last month, CNN Worldwide President Jeff Zucker informed staffers that leaner times were ahead. “We are going to do less and have to do it with less,” he told colleagues. The network is among the units of Turner Broadcasting that’s offering buyouts to employees as a cost-cutting measure.