In an unusual step, KSBY technical employees who have been working without a contract for several weeks since talks with the station’s South Carolina-based parent company broke down are calling on local advertisers to boycott the station or face boycotts themselves.
Despite mediation efforts scheduled to begin in early August, the union, the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians, sent more than 120 letters to local businesses that advertise with KSBY, threatening to picket the advertisers.
Union President Kevin Wilson said several businesses have called him and responded positively to the letters, which were sent to businesses in SLO and Santa Barbara counties.
He declined to name any of the businesses.
New Times spoke to one business owner who did not respond positively to the two letters he received that threatened him with a boycott.
Carl Reynolds of Mattress and Bed Superstore in SLO said he doesn’t know why he was dragged into the middle of a labor dispute.
“This is a union out of San Francisco, complaining about a company in South Carolina with workers in San Luis Obispo,” Reynolds said. “We don’t have anything to do with this. What they’re basically doing is asking us to illegally void a contract and they’re threatening us with picketers and fliers if we don’t.”
Reynolds said he was sympathetic to the workers, but basically wanted to be left out of the labor disagreement.
KSBY President Evan Pappas said the dispute is over what he called a minor disparity in pay. Pappas said the employees are being asked to forgo raises for the rest of the year, but they would get an average of two percent per year through 2012.
NABET was asking for slightly higher pay increases. Pappas added that employees, many of whom are part time, receive holiday bonuses equivalent to one week’s pay, benefits, vacation time, and other perks that make the jobs better than they seem. Union leaders say the change could mean a $2,000 per year cut to a worker making about $10 per hour.
But the real disagreement, according to Wilson, is not over money. He said employees are being asked to do a more diverse range of tasks and, while some of those tasks should be worth more pay, it’s not reflected in a 2 percent salary increase. Wilson was concerned that technical staff is being asked to produce news content, though they may not be qualified.
“Our concern is really what impact this is going to have on the community,” Wilson said. “It’s not in the public interest to have people without journalism degrees and without journalism experience producing news.”
Pappas said there had been a sort of restructuring at the station, but that most people will fare better than before.
Wilson defended the move to picket businesses, even before the two sides head into mediation, because, he said, the unions have already been told that they won’t get a better offer.
Reynolds said if the picketers show up at his business to hand out fliers, he’ll just start picketing the picketers and hand out his own fliers.