AFTRA Members Escalate Fight for Fair Contract in Central Illinois

AFTRA Members Escalate Fight for Fair Contract in Central Illinois

PEORIA (May 17, 2011) – The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, AFL-CIO – a national union of more than 70,000 professional performers, recording artists and broadcasters – today distributed flyers and a petition to the neighborhood homes surrounding Peoria’s WEEK-WHOI-TV local station headquarters. The Union also passed out flyers to the Darien, Conn., residence and neighbors of Granite Broadcasting’s CEO Peter Markham. The flyers and petition call on the community to support professional AFTRA broadcast journalists in their stalled contract negotiations with station owners of WEEK-WHOI-TV, which is owned by Connecticut-based Granite Broadcasting.

The flyers and petition state that the “Professional News Team at Central Illinois’ WEEK/WHOI is standing up for their professions, their communities and decent jobs by fighting back against Granite Broadcasting’s attacks on local and professional news. Granite Broadcasting management is threatening to possibly outsource local news, degrade working conditions for your neighborhood news team and allow amateurs to inform your community!” AFTRA members are calling on Peoria’s WEEK-WHOI-TV and Markham’s neighbors to “join your news team and your community in their efforts to save local news.”

Members of the AFTRA Peoria Local who work at WEEK-WHOI-TV have been in contract negotiations with station owners since November 2010. Negotiations stalled on Feb. 18, 2011 and since then AFTRA members have been working without a contract. Despite months of good faith bargaining, concessions to company proposals in recognition of the WEEK/WHOI-TV’s challenged financial operations and repeated requests by AFTRA negotiators and unit members for the company to return to the negotiating table, to date, the company has flatly refused.

“We have tried over and over again to successfully bargain a contract that provides for our members and honors their commitment and duty to their community in Central Illinois,” said J.D. Miller, Chief Negotiator and AFTRA Kansas City and St. Louis Local Executive Director. Our efforts to reach a fair contract have been ignored, so we are now escalating our approach. By reaching out to these executives’ friends and neighbors, we hope to make them realize that local journalism is important to this community.”

As outlined in the flyers and petition, AFTRA members’ chief concern is not wages or benefits. Instead, they consider the company’s proposal to outsource local news reporting a threat to their commitment to provide their community with quality, locally reported news. So far, the pleas of the 30 professional journalists represented by AFTRA have been ignored by the station’s General Manager Mark Desantis, who lives in Peoria, as well as by executives at Granite Broadcasting, including Markham who lives more than 1,000 miles away in Darien, Conn.

WEEK/WHOI-TV is owned by Connecticut-based Granite Broadcasting which in turn is owned by Silver Point Capital (www.silverpointcaptial.com) whose website describes it as a “distressed debt and credit-focused private investment firm based in Greenwich, Connecticut.” Silver Point Capital has been previously reportedly as a $6 billion private hedge fund under the leadership of two former Goldman Sachs executives, Robert J. O’Shea and Edward Mulé. The fund focuses on the mid-sized distress market, and it is one of the most profitable and active private hedge funds in the financial sector.

While American middle-class broadcast journalists in Central Illinois are fighting for dignity in their professions and to keep news reporting local in their community, Silver Point Capital has recently purchased millions of dollars of Lehman Brothers' debt and the company is also working to build a $4 billion casino in Macau, China. The deal is currently in the courts due to funding issues between Silver Point Capital and other partners in the deal.

Along with owning Granite Broadcasting, Silver Point Capital has holdings in various industries in the United States. In 2005 Silver Point acquired a controlling interest in FiberMark, an upstate New York company. Shortly after Silver Point took over the operations of FiberMark, the firm implemented devastating changes for the workforce including cutting wages and benefits for working families. A few years later, Silver Point Capital sold FiberMark for a profit. The firm also has an account, through Silver Point Capital Offshore Fund, in the Cayman Islands and offices in the United Kingdom.

The flyers and petition urge neighbors to call Destantis and Markham at their homes to express support for AFTRA members in Peoria who are working to provide their community with quality local news reporting. For more information and to see the flyers and petition, please visit the AFTRA Peoria website at http://www.aftra.com/peoria.htm or the AFTRA Peoria Facebook page at www.facebook.com/peoriaaftra.

About AFTRA
The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, AFL-CIO, are the people who entertain and inform America. In 32 Locals across the country, AFTRA members work as actors, broadcasters, singers, dancers, announcers, hosts, comedians, disc jockeys, and other performers across the media industries including television, radio, cable, sound recordings, music videos, commercials, audio books, non-broadcast industrials, interactive games, the Internet and other digital media. The 70,000 professional performers, broadcasters, and recording artists of AFTRA are working together to protect and improve their jobs, lives, and communities in the 21st century. From new art forms to new technology, AFTRA members embrace change in their work and craft to enhance American culture and society.