CNN Ordered to Rehire Over 100 Union Techs, Compensate Many More

The National Labor Relations Board order in a decade-long case comes at a difficult time for the network

The National Labor Relations Board on Friday ordered CNN to rehire more than 100 union technicians in the network’s New York and Washington bureaus, compensate more than 200 others wrongly paid at lower wage rates, and recognize a unit of the Communications Workers of America as the bargaining representative of the affected employees.

The decision, which affirmed a 2008 administrative law decision and concerned layoffs that took place in 2003, may be particularly unpleasant for network parent Turner Broadcasting to implement, given that the company is currently slashing jobs: about 600 employees, many at CNN and sister channel HLN, received voluntary buyout offers in August, with layoffs believed to be looming. The decision may also complicate Turner’s search for additional executive talent. Turner is a unit of Time Warner.

“The evidence of [anti-union] animus in this case is overwhelming, as is the evidence that CNN’s explanations for its conduct were pretextual,” read one passage from the board’s lengthy ruling in the case.

“[T]he National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians-Communications Workers of America [NABET-CWA] is grateful for today’s decision by the National Labor Relations Board,” said NABET-CWA president Jim Joyce. “These workers have waited far too long for this measure of justice to finally be delivered and have suffered far too much as the result of these unlawful activities.”

He added, “CNN should finally do the right thing now and immediately comply with the orders of the National Labor Relations Board issued today.”

But a CNN spokesperson said, “CNN disagrees with the NLRB decision, and we are evaluating our options.” Those options include appeal to a federal court of appeals, and it appears from the National Labor Relations Act that CNN can choose from at least the 2nd Circuit, whose jurisdiction includes New York, the D.C. Circuit, or the 11th Circuit, whose jurisdiction includes CNN’s headquarters in Atlanta. (Indeed, under the Act, any circuit in which the company “resides or transacts business” is a suitable venue.) The latter is more stocked with conservative judges than the first two and thus may be where CNN chooses to lodge an appeal.

The layoffs that led to the case were an instance of insourcing. Starting with the founding of its Washington bureau in 1980 and New York in 1985, CNN had used a succession of unionized outside contractors to operate electronic equipment at those bureaus, most recently a company called Team Video Services, whose employees were represented by NABET-CWA. According to the administrative law judge and the NLRB, the network exercised sufficient control over the employees that it was a joint employer of TVS’s employees, as well as a successor employer after the restructuring

In 2003, as news-gathering technology evolved, CNN decided it wanted more flexibility in the assignment of field technicians as “one-man bands,” i.e., combining audio and video tech functions; wanted to reduce overtime and use of freelancers; and wanted to merge the (union) broadcast engineering and (non-union) IT departments. According to the NLRB, the network then terminated its contracts with TVS, told employees that there would be no further need for a union, refused to bargain with NABET-CWA, and announced a new hiring process, which the company then manipulated to favor the non-union applicants and disfavor the union ones, according to the NLRB. The board also found that the company declined to hire five of TVS’s most skilled technicians, all of whom were active in the union and held union office.

“Delays in the case took a terrible toll on workers, who have lost their homes, gone bankrupt and struggled to pay their medical bills while they awaited justice,” said the union in a statement. “And this remediation comes too late for a number of workers, who have since passed away.”

Bookmark The Hollywood Reporter’s Labor Page for the most in-depth coverage of entertainment unions and guilds.

Twitter: @jhandel