Chicago public TV station reaches deal with union

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The union representing behind-the-scenes staffers at Chicago’s public TV station has voted to OK a new deal with station management that, if approved, would end a weeks-long standoff.

IBEW Local Union 1220 represents two dozen floor crew, graphic designers and broadcast technicians who work at WTTW, many of whom help produce the station’s signature evening newscast “Chicago Tonight.”

The union members voted to accept the new contract April 7, 2022, and the staffers are expected back at work April 8, 2022.

The union began a strike March 6, 2022, the first in its history with WTTW. Major sticking points were job protections and work jurisdictions, which generally outline what type of duties and equipment union members are assigned.

The deal does not give the union everything it was seeking, but notably does include guarantees about full-time hiring that will help protect the union’s membership size. It also includes “fair economic gains.”

WTTW came under fire after reports emerged that it had cut off the striking employees’ health insurance benefits starting April 1, 2022, reports Robert Feder.

Station management was quick to point out that some striking workers had to move to COBRA benefits because they did not work the required minimum number of hours as set by its carrier from the period of March 31, 2022 to when the deal was reached.

WTTW announced workers will immediately be eligible for full health benefits April 8 and that it plans to reimburse workers for the added COBRA premiums incurred during the roughly seven-day period they went without full benefits.

COBRA is a broader law that includes provisions for employees to keep group health insurance plans after leaving a job as long as they pay the full premium amount, plus, in some cases, an added administrative fee, out of their own pockets.

Many employers pay some or all of the premium for health plans, so workers continuing their old health coverage under COBRA typically see their monthly cost go up considerably, but it can sometimes make more sense financially given that a group health plan can often provide better coverage than individual or health insurance marketplace plans, especially for those with significant health expenses.