© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

KCUR editorial staffers begin the process of forming a union. Pay is a key issue

A large minivan with a several KCUR 89.3 decals print on it sit across the street from a brown, brick building. A sign on the build spells out "operation breakthrough".
Zach Perez
KCUR's editorial staffers have petitioned to form a collective bargaining unit with the Communications Workers of America.

If successful, KCUR would become the second unionized public radio station in Missouri. The station's general manager promised a continued focus on "trusted journalism and entertainment that is freely accessible to all.”

Editorial staffers at KCUR, the NPR-member station in Kansas City, and its partners have petitioned to organize a union, the second public radio station in Missouri to do so.

Members of the union organizing committee said that 70% of eligible staffers, including reporters, producers, on-air hosts, newscasters and audience development specialists, joined the petition to form a collective bargaining unit with the Communication Workers of America.

According to the committee, some non-management employees at Classical KC, Kansas News Service and the Midwest Newsroom are also involved in the process. All three partners are reporting collaborations based at KCUR.

“KCUR is a unique bright spot in the world of public media,” a statement released by KCUR employees said. “Still, it is fragile and often only being maintained and protected by specific individuals rather than the organization as a whole. Content creators need systemic protections and changes to continue to do the work that makes KCUR a trustworthy news source.”

The statement was signed by 26 editorial staffers at the station.

Celisa Calacal, one of four union organizing committee members and KCUR’s Missouri government and politics reporter, said that a big issue – and an impetus behind the organizing effort – was pay.

“We want to make sure that we retain the talent that we have, and the way to do that is possibly raising the pay floor, making sure that pay is equitable across the station and also making sure that pay is competitive given the media market,” Calacal said.

Sarah Morris, the station’s general manager, said that a group of KCUR employees earlier had notified her of their intent to unionize.

“Our station leadership recognizes the rights of employees to explore collective representation with the University of Missouri system and appreciated their transparent approach,” she said in an email.

“At KCUR, we value the contributions of each team member and are committed to fostering an environment that is open, positive and constructive,” Morris continued. “While our employees pursue this exploration, as outlined under Missouri law, rest assured KCUR will remain focused on its mission to serve this community and our region with trusted journalism and entertainment that is freely accessible to all.”

In announcing its intention to form a union, KCUR employees become the latest among a string of public radio station employees that have unionized or petitioned to unionize.

St. Louis Public Radio, which like KCUR is licensed to the University of Missouri, formed a union last June. Nearly 80% of that station’s eligible staffers voted to join the Communication Workers of America, becoming the first public media organization in Missouri to unionize.

And just two weeks ago, reporters at Oregon Public Broadcasting voted to join the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. They joined employees at NPR itself as well as other NPR-member stations, including WBUR in Boston, KPCC in Los Angeles and KUOW in Seattle, who have unionized under SAG-AFTRA.

Earlier this year, employees at Kansas City PBS, formerly KCPT Television, voted to unionize with the National Association of Broadcasters and Technicians-Communications Workers of America.

The unionization wave isn’t confined to public media but has also spread to for-profit newsrooms such as The Kansas City Star, which unionized nearly three years ago. The newspaper’s owner, McClatchy Co., voluntarily recognized the Kansas City News Guild, which covered more than 40 employees at the time. The unionization wave has been driven by consolidation in the news industry, mass layoffs and declining revenues.

KCUR has more than 80 employees. About a third of its revenue last year came from listeners, another 29% from grants and institutional gifts, another 21% from corporate sponsorships and another 15% from special events and philanthropic donations, according to the station’s 2023 Year in Review report.

KCUR first broadcast in 1957. It was the first university-licensed FM station in Missouri and only the second FM station in Kansas City. The station’s call letters derive from the name of the university, Kansas City University, before it became part of the University of Missouri System and became known as the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Editor's note: This story was written by Dan Margolies, a retired KCUR reporter and editor. It was edited by Barb Shelly, a freelance contributor. Neither is involved in the unionization effort or a manager at KCUR.

Dan Margolies has been a reporter for the Kansas City Business Journal, The Kansas City Star, and KCUR Public Radio. He retired as a reporter in December 2022 after a 37-year journalism career.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.