Shareholders cheered back in April when Maryland-based Sinclair Broadcast Group agreed to a $373 million acquisition of Seattle-based Fisher Communications, which owned and operated KOMO-TV, KOMO Newsradio, and KVI along with 19 other TV stations in eight states. But while the Sinclair deal may have been great news for Fisher shareholders, it totally sucked for KOMO employees and their local audience.
Sinclair is infamous for its stations airing right-wing propaganda. Just two weeks before the 2004 presidential election, Sinclair ordered its 62 stations to air the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth–funded Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal, a film that attempted to smear Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's war record. During the 2010 midterm elections, Sinclair stations ran a 25-minute infomercial that described President Obama as a "socialist" and accused him of raising money from the terrorist group Hamas. Last year, Sinclair stations in swing states Ohio and Florida ran anti-Obama election eve specials in the slot normally occupied by Nightline.
Sinclair also has a long history of labor strife, earning itself a prominent spot on the AFL-CIO's national boycott list since 2010. Combine that with Sinclair's penchant for cost-cutting at recently acquired stations, and KOMO employees had lots of reasons to worry.
Those fears were realized last week when Sinclair reportedly laid off 18 workers at KOMO and another nine at its sister station, KATU in Portland, Oregon, including editors, writers, and producers. But the most contentious layoffs involve the elimination of satellite truck operators—three at KOMO and two at KATU—shifting the responsibility for driving and operating this massive equipment to the remaining videographers.
"It's more than just driving a truck," explains IATSE Local 600 representative Dave Twedell, whose union represents KOMO's video editors and videographers. "Operating the satellite communications technology is a daunting task... this had been a full-time job for another person." KOMO also laid off three video editors, about a quarter of the department, with the videographers expected to pick up the slack there as well: "Our members get more work but don't get any more money," complains Twedell.
IBEW Local 46 representative Angela Marshall, whose union represents the laid-off drivers, says it's also a safety issue, especially when crews are dispatched to snowy mountain passes and other hazardous locations: "All our drivers are trained and certified," says Marshall. "These are massive trucks with lots of satellite technology. What does that mean for safety?"
Both IBEW and IATSE say these layoffs may violate labor agreements, and both plan to file complaints with the National Labor Relations Board.
KOMO declined to comment. Sinclair did not respond to a request for comment.