Thursday, January 19, 2006

Sinclair may have violated state law

Published in the Portland Phoenix

While the contract negotiations between union workers at WGME Channel 13 and the TV station’s parent company, Sinclair Broadcast Group, have stalled, the union’s attorney is investigating allegations that Sinclair failed to obey a Maine law requiring employers to pay workers within eight days of the close of a pay period.

'GME frequently pays part-time workers and overtime wages for full-timers as much as 16 days late, according to Matt Beck, shop steward for the union, IBEW Local 1837, which represents off-camera employees such as video photographers, editors, and producers.

Jonathan Beal, a labor attorney working for the union, said he has begun discussions with the station, and is holding off on filing a lawsuit until more conversations take place.

Sinclair attorney Michael Lowenbaum did not return phone calls seeking comment on the pay-period dispute, and station manager Alan Cartwright declined to comment.

Labor negotiators have not met since the summer, though both sides say they are ready to talk “at any time.”

The workers have gotten support from other local unions, including the stage workers at the Cumberland County Civic Center, the Portland Newspaper Guild, the Southern Maine Labor Council, the Teamsters, and local painters and machinists unions.

The WGME workers are waiting for Sinclair to respond to a request the union made for evidence to support Sinclair’s assertion that WGME staff members are among the best-paid in the company.

Some would say they should be: Jason Nelson, a video photographer, was just named the best video photographer in New England by the National Press Photographers Association, the only Sinclair journalist so honored this year.

Other WGME employees have been part of productions that have won awards from Emmys on down to Maine Association of Broadcasters honors, according to Beck.

Beal said the company is conducting a survey of its workers in response to the demand for more information, but said that information will be less useful than the station-specific and position-specific information the union wants.

Beck said union members are worried Sinclair may declare an “impasse,” and then impose the most recent contract offer, which is not acceptable to union members.

Cartwright declined to comment on the state of negotiations, or even on the awards won by his staff, saying his attorney had instructed him not to discuss “ongoing negotiations.”