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The latest on the unionizing effort at MPR

It will be interesting to see how MPR executives greet employees’ organizing effort, which is being led by SAG-AFTRA.

MPR spokeswoman Jen Keavy: "We received a petition indicating some MPR News employees are interested in having a union represent them."
MinnPost photo by Jana Freiband

In today’s climate, a unionizing effort anywhere is news, but when the target is Minnesota Public Radio there’s a kind of special fascination. MPR, after all, is the Minnesota institution it is because of its shrewd reflection of its listeners’/members’ values, i.e. fair­-minded objectivity unclouded by emotion and frivolity and a consistent, good­-faith commitment to both relevance and accuracy.

Somewhere in there, though, the acceptance of a less­-than-­autocratic, organized employee environment collectively bargaining for better pay, benefits, etc. has never taken root.

Now though, an effort appears to be underway in what sources say is a more focused attempt than just the usual righteous calls to action. And I say “appears” because as with so many things MPR-related, almost no one speaks freely.

What I know is that the latest unionizing effort, by SAG-­AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists), was met with a note last week from CEO Jon McTaggart expressing his “disappointment.”

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One of the identified leaders in the effort at MPR responded to my inquiries, but only to pass the matter, as did SAG-AFTRA’s local bureau, to the union’s home office in Los Angeles, which issued a terse, ‘No comment.’”

In the news game, when an entity like a union says, “No comment,” it is generally taken as meaning, “We don’t see any reason to say anything about a situation this precarious.” Were nothing in the wind, the response would be more along the lines of, “We support all efforts by workers everywhere to stand up for their rights.”

The official response from MPR, via spokeswoman Jen Keavy, is: “We received a petition indicating some MPR News employees are interested in having a union represent them. We respect everyone’s right to have a voice in whether or not they want to be represented by a union, and we are committed to an inclusive workplace where all employees feel valued and heard.”

And that folks, is what I can tell you for now, beyond adding that it will be interesting to see how full and respectful a hearing MPR’s employees’ organizing efforts are met with, and the quality of explanations the company offers for resisting collective bargaining. I mean, this isn’t Wisconsin, y’know.

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Also, in the category of “Shameless Plugs for the Old Hometown,” there will be a screening at 6 p.m. Monday at the George Latimer Central Library in downtown St. Paul of a documentary titled, “Hello Montevideo.” Not only is it free, but refreshments will be served!

Spokesman Patrick Moore says, “It turns out that there is a significant group of Uruguayan expats who live in the cities who are interested in this documentary and our co­-sponsor — the Minnesota Uruguay Partners of the Americas — is making the screening part of their monthly board meeting. Lowell Hellervik, who lives downtown St. Paul, provided funding for the documentary which features his hometown of Montevideo and in his honor we wanted to have the screening close to where he now lives.”

The Montevideo in the documentary’s title, of course, refers to Montevideo, Minnesota​, otherwise known as the garden paradise of the Minnesota River valley. Good old “Monte” has had a long-­running “sister city” relationship with the Uruguayan capital. (A statue of Jose Artigas, aka the George Washington of Uruguay, stands proudly on the Minnesota town’s Main Street, where teenage miscreants of a certain era occasionally outfitted it with women’s underwear.)

Specifically, Moore says, the film is about “exploring the relationship between two Sister Cities ­­Montevideo, Minnesota (pop. 5,000) and Montevideo, Uruguay (pop. 1,000,000) from the perspective of high school age students.” It was produced by Dana Johnson, photographed by Joah Colby & Ben Dempcy and edited by Kevin Russell for Pioneer Public Television.

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In a side note, Moore says, “There is another developing story that I can give you a scoop on if you are interested: turns out that as a result of Pioneer sending a crew down to Montevideo last fall, a big time ad agency from South America has decided to send a crew up to Minnesota to film a commercial for a cell phone company in Montevideo that will air over Uruguayan television.”

I tell ya, there’ll be a big celebration at Topper’s Bar and Grill when that runs.