I was sent an email today of details that don't bode well for the folks at Metro/Shadow traffic, Westwood One. Folks like Sam Clover, Pat Winters, John Brown, Tom Collins and Mike Lankford who report your traffic on KYW newsradio are among those affected. Other traffic announcers you may recognize from Metro/Shadow are folks like Paul Perello, Wendy McClure, Bill Zimpfer, John Butterworth, Randy Chepigan, Bryan Ramona and Cindy Graham to name a few on stations such as WMGK, WPST, WRTI, WOGL, WPHT, WXTU, WHYY, south Jersey's WSJO and even Sirius/XM Traffic.
Metro/Shadow producers and announcers voted in June 2008 to be represented by AFTRA (the American Federation of Television and Radio Announcers) because of "an increase in deteriorating working conditions that included a lack of training, a lack of sufficient staff to provide the top-notch product expected by their affiliates, a lack of merit increases, a lack of working equipment and a lack of overall good management" to name a few.
Since late summer 2008, AFTRA and Metro employees have been negotiating for a contract with top-level management but were only able to reach a tentative agreement on a few issues. The biggest issues remain unresolved, according to AFTRA, such as the lack of an agreement to minimum pay rates for staff, the lack of an agreement to layoff/severence protection (which is in place in other Metro/Shadow centers across the country), the lack of an agreement to put in writing that adequate training for new technology will be implemented OR the implementation of training for the introduction of new markets.
Metro/Shadow Philadelphia not only covers traffic for the Philadelphia market but also the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Pittsburgh and Mercer county markets. I'm told there is little to any resources, however, in the gathering process for these other markets. The first question one might ask would be "how do you cover traffic for a city 65 to 300 miles away without resources such as a driver or scanners for that area"? A very good question and one of many concerns at Metro/Shadow.
According to AFTRA, from 2003-2007 Westwood One/Metro Networks saw its stock fall from a high in the $30s to around $1.50 per share by the end of 2007. In January 2008, magazine executive Tom Beusse was hired to address the problems in the company and make improvements in both profit and quality of the product. Buesse hired a consulting firm Spring of 2008 to conduct a review of the company's efficiency and by September of '08, Buesse determined layoffs were in order. Three hundred producers/announcers across the country were let go (15% of the Metro/Shadow payroll) and a month later, that $1.50 per share dropped to just 18 cents per share. The Beusse regime lasted a mere nine months and, according to AFTRA, his severence package included the following:
*$1.9 million in cash over a two year period
*18 months of health insurance coverage
*Stock options for 333,333 shares of Company stock
*A $300,000 cash bonus
The Philadelphia center lost 30% of its staff; thirteen announcers/producers including long-time traffic innovator Rod Carson. However, at the same time were given more business by adding the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Pittsburgh markets. The Harrisburg market comes on-board in the next few months, according to AFTRA with shore traffic that Metro/Shadow is known for just about eight weeks away. "More work, less people, little to no resources" is the word I'm told.
The next question is, "at what point does the product suffer if it hasn't already? A road in Pittsburgh could literally collapse any weeknight or weekend and it wouldn't be out of the question that it would never make it into the information broadcast on XM/Sirus or the internet. Management hasn't put any resources in place to actually gather the information properly", I'm told. The Pittsburgh market is staffed locally during the weekday business hours, according to AFTRA.
With the exception of a few long-termers most of the staff make $10-$15 an hour, according to AFTRA, including the only two African-American producers who are the two lowest paid employees and have been on-staff a number of years.
AFTRA recently presented their issues to about fifty AFL-CIO union members last week and report their delegates were "outraged" that Westwood One would pay someone $1.9 million to lay-off 300 employees AND give a $300,000 severence bonus when the stock price dropped 88% during his tenure. Additionally, AFTRA's Metro/Shadow representation is "sick and tired of CEO's around the country, including Westwood One, getting huge bonuses while working people get nothing".
Negotiations continue at Metro. However, as of the March 20th negotiations management continues to refuse to agree to a contract with set minimums, a severence package and even withdrew a previously agreed-upon 1.5% wage proposal and replaced it with "no proposal on wages at this time". This is considered in poor taste in the union negotiating process and certainly not well-received by AFTRA.
Metro's next negotiating session is scheduled for April 16th.