KOMO-TV headquarters in Seattle, Wash. Credit: Calvin Hodgson
Shortly after President Donald Trump signed an enormous tax cut for corporations, Sinclair Broadcast Group, the conservative local media giant, joined a handful of other companies in announcing they would award employees a Christmas-time bonus as a result. Nine thousand employees will get $1,000 extra dollars each.
But some KOMO news employees, Seattle’s ABC affiliate that was purchased by Sinclair in 2013, are unlikely to get that bonus because of forthcoming union negotiations. Members of the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which represents on-air reporters, have an expired contract. According to one employee, who requested anonymity to speak about internal affairs, KOMO’s HR has told employees they will not get the bonus.
It’s a kick in the gut to KOMO staff who are already frustrated with Sinclair’s leadership. The employee called it “scrooge revisited.”
“To say, everybody’s valuable in the company except these people because they’re in a union negotiation seems disingenuous,” the employee said.
The station’s photographers recently voted, 11-10, to accept a new contract and will therefore receive the bonus, according to their union representative Dave Twedell.
Sinclair is the largest owner and broadcaster of local news in the country, with 193 television stations on 589 channels in 89 U.S. markets. That presence is likely to grow if a proposed $3.9 billion merger between Sinclair and Tribune Media is allowed to go through.
Before Trump’s election, Sinclair toiled in relative anonymity. But following the election, the broadcast group came under scrutiny for its right-leaning tilt and disguised influence in local newsrooms.
Shortly after the election, Politico reported Sinclair and the Trump campaign had struck a deal for more favorable coverage. Local channels are often made to run Trump-friendly content handed down from the corporate offices, including a segment on “fake news” and editorials from a former Trump official. Broadcasters are sometimes given scripts to read on topics like terrorism, giving the appearance of locally produced content, when in reality it is not.
Sinclair’s anonymity has evaporated in recent months, especially following a widely viewed segment by comedian John Oliver.
Locally, KOMO unions have been negotiating with Sinclair unsuccessfully for years. Sinclair representatives recently declined to guarantee jobs for KOMO photographers if the proposed merger with Tribune is allowed to go through. (Q13 is a Tribune station, although recent reports suggest Sinclair would have to sell Q13 if the merger is allowed to go through.) A recent decision by the FCC appears to clear the road for the purchase’s approval.
In an email to staff Friday, Senior Vice President of HR with Sinclair, Don Thompson, wrote, “we are grateful to our President and legislature for passing the landmark Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and are excited about the benefits it will provide for our country’s economy, our Company, and our employees. We are pleased to announce that we will be paying a special $1,000 bonus to almost 9,000 of our full-time and part-time regular employees at all our stations and subsidiaries (excluding senior level executives and employees covered by collective bargaining agreements currently in the negotiation process). We recognize that our employees are our most valuable resource, truly appreciate their combined achievements for our Company and look forward to a very bright future.” (Emphasis added.)
The significance of the parenthetical was not lost on KOMO staff. KOMO’s HR confirmed to employees that, yes, that would mean they were not eligible for the bonus, according to the employee. It is also unlikely that employees with KATU in Portland will receive the bonus as they are also in union negotiations.
In an email to reporters, Executive Director of SAG-AFTRA Shellea Allen said Sinclair was “arbitrarily holding a $1,000 bonus from bargaining unit employees. We do not agree with this decision and have been in contact with management at KOMO to make that clear.”
Representatives from Sinclair HR did not immediately respond to a voicemail for comment.