Seven KUOW employees positions will be eliminated.
Seven KUOW employees' positions will be eliminated. kjekol/getty

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KUOW eliminated seven employees’ positions Wednesday. The news prompted shock and tears in the newsroom, according to an employee.

The change comes as station leadership restructures KUOW’s morning and afternoon “drive time” shows. It also comes less than two months after the KUOW newsroom elected to unionize, but before employees bargained a new contract agreement with management.

KUOW Chief Content Officer Jennifer Strachan announced the eliminations Wednesday morning in a staff-wide email, which was provided to The Stranger. One newsroom employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation said employees were “completely surprised” and “many people left in tears." Management notified the affected employees in person, according to the station's general manager Caryn Mathes.

Unlike the constant bleed of layoffs across local and national media, KUOW is not downsizing, according to Strachan's email. Instead, seven employees will lose their jobs and the station will hire for seven new positions. The new positions will be open starting Thursday and the old jobs will be eliminated in 90 days, according to the email.

The employees whose positions were eliminated will have the chance to apply for the new jobs. However, the new positions will have “substantially different roles and responsibilities than the existing positions,” Strachan wrote.

The KUOW newsroom has been undergoing a reorganization since last year, with news reporters now working on enterprise teams focused on issues like growth or immigration. But the email Wednesday came as a surprise for two reasons, according to the employee who spoke to The Stranger. First, the affected employees got little advance notice before the staff-wide email. Second, public radio employees are often trained for new jobs, rather than simply let go, the employee said.

“This is not how you treat people,” the employee said. “Philosophically, for an institution to grow, sometimes people have to leave. But in public radio, it just doesn’t work like that. You always train up… I’m not comfortable being part of an organization that treats employees like this.”

The employees whose positions are being eliminated are: morning host Emily Fox, afternoon host Kim Malcolm, morning newscaster Lisa Brooks, afternoon newscaster Jamala Henderson, morning producer Rob Wood, morning producer Stephen Gomes, and afternoon producer Tami Kosch. The employees either declined to comment, did not respond to requests for comment, or could not be reached.

KUOW’s drive time shows currently have hosts and newscasters, who pull from national and local news to create the shows. The station will now combine the two roles so the show has a "singular voice," Strachan wrote, which is a "common practice at many stations." The shows will also now have reporters, board operators, and senior news producers.

According to Strachan’s email, KUOW has “seen record audience growth” and 200,000 people listen to the station’s morning and afternoon shows each week. However, Strachan wrote, “for KUOW to continue to grow and serve its local audience, we believe we must deliver more distinctive, rigorous news programming during these important day parts.”

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In a February card check, an overwhelming majority of KUOW reporters, producers, and other staffers elected to join SAG-AFTRA, which represents radio and TV journalists across the country. Employees said they organized because they were concerned about low starting salaries at the station and wanted more say in decisions like newsroom reorganizations.

In an email to staff Wednesday night, KUOW's union organizing committee said SAG-AFTRA will be in touch with the affected employees. The union is "reaching out to management demanding to bargain over the effects of this reorganization on our membership," the committee wrote, "and gathering information about management’s actions so we can evaluate (and exercise) all of the rights available to us under the law."

"While management has the right to reorganize the newsroom," the committee wrote, "it is unfortunate that management chose to notify our union staff less than 20 minutes before they sent out the email to the whole unit. We understand why many of you feel this roll out was unprofessional, and we share your frustrations."