The National Labor Relations Board has found sufficient evidence to support charges that Hispanic radio giant SBS fired on-air talent at two Los Angeles Spanish-language radio stations in retaliation for union activities, Billboard has learned.
SBS chairman Raúl Alarcón Jr. says that the company will “vigorously defend itself against these false claims to the fullest extent permitted by the law.”
Richard D. Lara, General Counsel for SBS, added that “it is unfortunate that SAG-AFTRA once again is resorting to blatant and transparent attempts at intimidating out company into accepting unfair contract demands.”
The complaints filed by the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) charge that the employees, who were suddenly let go last March, were the object of “threats, intimidation and coercion“ by management at SBS-owned stations La Raza 97.9 FM 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 Felix Castillo, known as DJ Mr. Boro, who before his termination could be heard on La Raza’s morning show El Vacilón de la Mañana. Castillo spoke out about his firing 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.”
Attorney Joelle Melvin, of the NLRB’s region 31 office, confirmed that the labor relations board had found merit in complaints that Castillo, La Raza personality Erika Garza and five other employees were wrongly terminated and that SBS had failed to provide notice or allow union representatives to bargain in good faith. The NLRB also supported SAG-AFTRA’s claim that employees were told they would not be promoted if they were active in the union, and were interrogated by management about their union activities.
The NLRB also authorized the union’s complaint that former La Raza morning show host Marlene Quinto had been prevented from speaking to her bargaining representative before signing a settlement agreement with the station that misrepresented that she was voluntarily resigning, a charge that Quinto corroborated in an interview with Billboard.
SAG-AFTRA has 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.”
“SBS has been undaunted in its efforts to circumvent the National Labor Relations Act, and has been violating the law with impunity,” Julie Gutman Dickinson, a partner at the law firm Bush Gottlieb who serves as outside counsel to SAG-AFTRA, told Billboard. “This company has engaged in among the most egregious conduct I have seen in my over 20 years as a labor lawyer.”
Alarcón categorically denies the accusations.
“The recent allegations trumpeted by the union against our company are not only totally false and malicious, they are in fact and insult to the talented and professional on-air personnel the union claims to represent,” Alarcón said in a statement from SBS.
In August 2016, 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, meal, and even bathroom breaks while at work; and not being paid for doing sponsor endorsements and participating in promotional events.
The union alleges that soon after the 28 hosts, announcers, DJs, mixers and other employees joined the union, SBS management began mistreating and threatening them. According to SAG-AFTRA, “the company has since failed to negotiate a fair contract with the union, and refuses to engage in good faith bargaining over economics, including wages.”
According to Gutman Dickinson, unless SBS agrees to reinstate the employees, and pay full back pay for wages lost and to bargain in good faith with the union, the NLRB’s regional office will issue a complaint that will set a date for a hearing on the case before a NLRB judge.
“I find it ironic that, at this critical juncture when Latino culture and its institutions are under relentless attack, the union has singled out for criticism the one truly national Hispanic media organization with an unblemished historical record of service to our community,” SBS’ Alarcón said via the company statement.
“SBS has provided witness testimony and thousands of documents to the NLRB directly contradicting the outlandish SAG-AFTRA allegations concerning a handful of employees at our two L.A.-based radio stations,” SBS attorney Lara added. “And we fully expect to prevail against these spurious claims.”
SBS (Spanish Broadcasting System) 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, owns television station MegaTV, and LaMusica, a Latin entertainment app.