Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


The latest on the unionizing effort at MPR

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

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.”

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.


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.

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.

Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Jim Million on 05/09/2016 - 02:07 pm.

    Do Remain MPR Specific Here

    MPR News is the focus here. Haven’t heard this rumor from the MPR Classical side, but suppose a union shop might cover all units. On the other hand, most Classical hosts are getting pretty grey, so would receive negligible benefit. These “cats” (old beat-speak) are pretty independent of spirit anyway, former musical artists and/or radio pros. Don’t know if these folk would march to the drumbeat of any shop steward.

    Wondering what members and donors [I are one] have to say about this with respect to “listener support.”

  2. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 05/09/2016 - 08:11 pm.

    MPR Union

    I hope for the best for the MPR employees seeking to organize a union, but I suspect given Mr. McTaggert’s reaction of “disappointment” (translation: smoldering rage) toward this news, MPR management will use the threat to listenership and member support as a tactic to divide MPR employees and defeat it. No doubt many listeners will be sympathetic to McTaggert and MPR management given the irrational hostility many people have in this country against organized labor. But as the lockout of the Minnesota Orchestra players by management showed, people of Minnesota are open to listening to both sides and to being fair in judging these disputes. I wouldn’t be surprised if this effort is related to last summer’s layoffs.

  3. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 05/09/2016 - 08:13 pm.


    The local orchestras badly miscalculated how their supporters would react to their attempted union busting. As an institution receiving both tax payer dollars and and financial support of member listeners, MPR should trod very carefully. The orchestral boards found that the public cared far more for the musicians (it was their work they paid to hear) than they did for the board members. MPR supporters care little for it’s board members, much more for the on air talent they hear every day. Paternalistic statements by the CEO expressing his “disappointment” are not helpful, and one may infer that the employees are “disappointed” with their relationship with management.

  4. Submitted by Nick Coleman on 05/10/2016 - 09:48 am.

    Damn unions!

    Gosh, I just can’t understand why MPR employees would consider forming a union (and this story doesn’t help me). What the heck? Usually, unions come about when management arbitrarily and capriciously fires long-term employees without cause and the terminations make the survivors realize how little they have in the way of protection or representation and cause them to fear that they could be next on the block. Nothing like that has happened, I’m sure, at an organization that is such a pillar of reason and fairness. Has it? Oh, one last question: Does MinnPost have a union?

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/10/2016 - 11:17 am.

    Were they to Unionize…

    I would make a donation to MPR for the first time in over decades. I don’t really know anything about the working conditions except this: The Market/Economic guy who provides and has provided some of the most unreliable and useless information ever broadcast by MPR is the highest paid “talent” on the staff. The idea that this guy is the most valuable voice on MPR is simply ridiculous and that fact does not bode well for the kinds of salary decisions MPR management might be making.

    The idea that a union drive of some kind would hurt listeners and donations is simply daft. Almost as daft as MPR parading a host of “financial” advice telling us to reduce our tax liabilities at all costs; only to issue panicked calls for action whenever taxpayer funding for MPR is threatened. The only question now is how much money will MPR management spend on union busting “consultants”?

  6. Submitted by Jim Million on 05/11/2016 - 12:18 pm.

    Just wondering…

    How many MinnPost readers get their news from MPR News?
    Seems here the “news” is coming from MinnPost’s Lambert, not from MPR.
    Also seems MPR anything is a pretty good gig.
    Didn’t I recently read that overall average compensation is right around $100k?
    So, what’s the target issue, “working conditions”?
    Not likely…

Leave a Reply