The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists has announced a settlement of nearly half a million dollars with Latin radio giant Spanish Broadcasting System in the case of the wrongful termination of eight SBS employees.
The employees, who include 97.9 La Raza morning show El Vacilón de la Mañana host Felix Castillo and other Los Angeles on-air personalities, will receive full back pay. Under the terms of the settlement, the terminated employees can also choose between reinstatement of their former jobs or an upfront payout. Those who will return to the station are scheduled to return to work on Jan. 15, according to union representatives.
SBS made no immediate comment on the settlement. “At this time our General Counsel Richard D. Lara doesn’t have anything to say,” an SBS spokesperson said when reached by Billboard.
The SBS counsel reached the settlement with lawyers representing the union in Los Angeles after the National Labor Relations Board found merit in SAG-AFTRA’s charges of “a myriad of serious unfair labor practice charges filed by the union against the media company for discharging employees in retaliation for their union activity and engaging in egregious bad faith surface bargaining during first contract negotiations.” Before the settlement was reached, SBS was facing a NLRB trial and a possible federal court 10(j) injunction, which is designed to stop unfair labor practices while a case is under dispute.
The union complaint addressed a series of events that began to unfold in August 2016, when the on-air talent at La Raza and La Mega voted overwhelmingly to have SAG-AFTRA serve as their collective bargaining representative. They were the first Spanish-language radio stations in Los Angeles to organize under a union. Former SBS employees have said that they voted for the union in order to improve working conditions that included low salaries, being denied overtime pay and meal and bathroom breaks while at work, and not being paid for doing sponsor endorsements.
SAG-AFTRA charged that the employees, who were suddenly let go in March, were the object of “threats, intimidation and coercion” by management at SBS-owned stations La Raza and MEGA 96.3 FM, which upon dismissal offered the staffers severance pay in exchange for not publicly discussing the union.
“I was terminated without any explanation or warning,” said Castillo, known as DJ Mr. Boro, who spoke before a group of community activists at a public meeting organized by SAG-AFTRA in late August. “I believe I was terminated in direct retaliation for participation in the union organizing and frequent presence at the negotiating table. It’s clear to me that our terminations were meant as bullying tactics.”
SBS is a publicly traded company that owns 17 radio stations located in the top U.S. Hispanic markets of New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, San Francisco and Puerto Rico. The company also provides Spanish-language radio programming to over 250 affiliated stations and owns television station MegaTV, as well as LaMusica, a Latin entertainment app.
The union also accused SBS of making changes to the employees’ health care plan without providing that information to the employees, and that management has engaged in unlawful anti-union behavior across the board, including “bad faith surface bargaining, direct dealing, failing to furnish information relevant and necessary for bargaining.”
Julie Gutman Dickinson, a partner at the law firm Bush Gottlieb who serves as outside counsel to SAG-AFTRA, told Billboard that SBS had “engaged in among the most egregious conduct I have seen in my over 20 years as a labor lawyer.”
Before the settlement, SBS attorney Lara had called the union allegations “outlandish.”
Upon hearing the news of the union victory, Castillo said through SAG-AFTRA reps that he felt “that the fight was worth every second, every tear and every drop of sweat.
“I am very happy that SBS Los Angeles was the first step, and I am looking forward to being a part of the lasting change in the radio industry,” he added.