Judge: CNN Must Reinstate, Retrain Workers

An administrative law judge has issued a finding against CNN for failing to comply with union agreements and working hard to establish a non-union workforce at its Washington and New York Bureaus. If the ruling stands, it could cost the news giant a pile of money and restore union workers to scores of technical positions.

CNN said it disagrees with the judges’ recommendation and plans to appeal it to the full National Labor Relations Board. The judge’s decision cannot be enforced until the final resolution.

The 169-page Nov. 19 decision by NLRB Judge Arthur J. Amchan says CNN engaged in “widespread and egregious misconduct, demonstrating a flagrant and general disregard for the employees’ fundamental rights.”

At issue is CNN’s termination of contracts with Team Video Services (in late 2003 and early 2004) affecting some 200 technical workers represented by the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians. The judge wrote that CNN discharged or refused to hire employees as part of a goal to establish a non-unionized workforce.

In this transition—CNN’s “Bureau Staffing Project,” implemented in 2003 to employ the technicians directly instead of through contractors—nearly all the Team Video employees applied for jobs with CNN, and the network re-hired 70 of 120 employees in New York and about 48 of the 86 in Washington. The judge said that CNN was, for all practical purposes, the joint employer of the Team Video staff but unilaterally severed its agreement with the union, which it was obligated to honor.

The workers include field camera and audio technicians, and engineering and studio technical employees.

The judge rejected the claim by CNN that it needed a new workforce around 2004 because of its transition to a digital workflow. “A major motive in these decisions was CNN’s desire to operate its Washington and New York bureaus without a union,” he wrote.

The judge wrote that to remedy the situation, CNN must offer reinstatement to employees, provide back wages, and retrain them if necessary. If the order stands, CNN would also have to bargain in good faith with NABET and not discriminate against the union workers.