NPR’s Union Doesn’t Escape Criticism in Wake of Harassment Claims

From labor disputes cases to labor and employment publications, for your research, you’ll find solutions on Bloomberg Law®. Protect your clients by developing strategies based on Litigation...

By Jacquie Lee

National Public Radio executives aren’t the only ones under fire for fumbling sexual harassment allegations. The union representing NPR staff is also getting flak for not communicating clearly with members about its responsibilities when dealing with harassment claims.

Typically, the union has to represent both the accuser and the accused, which concerns some employees who see that as an inherent conflict of interest.

Marisa Penaloza, a senior producer on NPR’s national desk, wants to ensure the union speaks to both parties when the accused is also part of the bargaining unit.

“If the union is going to make the case that the harasser, as a member of the union, has the legal right to representation, then the union should actively reach out to the accusers, also union members, if not for representation, at least to get their side of the story,” Penaloza told Bloomberg Law.

More than 400 workers at NPR in Washington are represented by the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. The union didn’t immediately provide a comment.

Penaloza and other staffers spoke at a Feb. 22 meeting of NPR’s board of directors. A report outlining the findings of an independent investigation of sexual harassment at NPR drove the discussion. The meeting ended with public comments from NPR staffers, many of whom described a culture of “simmering resentment” because of a lack of accountability for senior management.

The Feb. 19 report, by Morgan Lewis & Bockius, highlights various instances in which management failed to take disciplinary action against Michael Oreskes, NPR’s former senior vice president of news. Oreskes was accused multiple times of inappropriate workplace behavior.

Investigators found a “very prominent distrust of management at NPR.” One factor is the perception among employees that “HR is secretive about complaints that are made” and not properly disciplining harassers, the report said.

Members might not even know they can file sexual harassment complaints with the union, Lori Todd, a SAG-AFTRA shop steward at NPR, said.

The staff and union are working with SAG-AFTRA leadership to ensure members know they can file complaints directly with union lawyers, Todd said. The union also needs to clarify that it is the “expectation for SAG-AFTRA to represent both the accuser and the accused,” she said.

“We understand how upsetting and hurtful that is so we’re recommending SAG-AFTRA better clarify to all membership what their role in this is,” Todd said.

Oreskes was forced to resign from the company in November. At least two other senior NPR employees have been pushed out because of sexual harassment.

Request Labor & Employment on Bloomberg Law