Solidarity on Display

How Local 600 photojournalists in Detroit achieved a contract with record-breaking gains

March 13, 2024
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In their fight for a just contract, Local 600’s photojournalist members at Detroit’s WDIV have exemplified what it means to stand together in solidarity. Over the course of nearly a year, the members rallied together against their employer, Graham Media, in a fight against proposed takeaways to their jurisdiction and a proposed zero percent raise in the first year of the contract with a small raise in the eighteenth month. The members exemplified union strength when they took care to build a strong social media campaign, distributed flyers around Detroit to educate the public about their negotiations and struggle with Graham Media, showcased their Local 600 swag, on the job and around town, and, most-importantly, grew stronger throughout the months-long negotiations process leading to a new three-year contract with never-before-seen wins.

The most attention-grabbing moment of the organizing drive was when Local 600 had a roving electronic billboard circle the Detroit Lions game on January 7, 2024, against the Vikings, a game which launched the Lions into the playoffs. The billboard read, as you can see below, “WDIV-4 is Crying Broke. Protect Union Journalism,” and included a QR code leading to an online petition, which gathered more than 250 digital signatures. This was a huge accomplishment for the members and helped them gain the momentum they needed to settle their contract. After the organizing success at the Lions game, Graham Media joined the union’s photojournalists at the bargaining table, prepared to meet the union’s demands.

Local 600 Senior Business Representative Raquel Ruiz has said “Our photojournalist members used a program of organizing and escalating that worked to win a great contract.” Ruiz, the union’s lead negotiator for broadcast contracts, never doubted the resilience of the membership at WDIV CH4.  “Through their internal organizing efforts, they were able to achieve a three-year contract with an 11% increase over three years (5, 3, 3) and broke the past pattern of raises that had been in place for the last 30 years.”

The three-year collective bargaining agreement, ratified unanimously by the bargaining unit, at WDIV covers February 1, 2024, to October 31, 2027. The agreement includes language for cell phones, credit cards, bonuses, bereavement leave, the addition of Juneteenth, an additional week of vacation for most members, closed shop language, and retention of jurisdiction language. These impressive gains would not have been possible had Local 600 WDIV photojournalists not stuck together.

Below, three of WDIV’s Local 600 photojournalists talk about their recent contract victory and share words of wisdom for their fellow union members heading into negotiations of their own.

Local 600 Photojournalists at WDIV

Sunny Shields
30 years of service
WDIV-TV employee since 1994
Shop Steward since 2009
National Executive Board member since 2019

How has this round of negotiations been different than previous contracts?
I got the WDIV General Manager, News Director, and Operations Manager (former photographer) to come to the negotiating table, which has never been done in the history of WDIV negotiations. I invited them because in years past the company only sent their lawyer and station negotiator. With our General Manager and News Director at the table, things moved a lot faster, because they know the day-to-day operations of a newsroom as opposed to an out-of-state lawyer who has never been at the negotiations table with us. Also, I invited all bargaining unit employees to attend the negotiations. Again, this was something that has never been done before.

What message would you like to convey to other union members who may be inspired by your crew’s successful negotiation of a new contract?
My words of wisdom to other union members are to make sure your entire bargaining team and members are of one accord. Have as many in-person or Zoom meetings as possible to discuss strategy. It’s also important to give union members certain duties so they can feel part of negotiations. I’ve always said in meetings that this contract is not mine – it’s yours – and I would like for everyone to be a part of what goes into the next contract.

Justin DePrekel
7 years of service
WDIV-TV employee since 2018

In what ways did you and the bargaining unit organize to get the word out to the Detroit community about WDIV’s fight for a fair contract?
With only 16-18 members working at our tv station, organizing really noticeable actions was a challenge. We’re divided up into three shifts staggered over the week so it’s rare for all of us to even be available at the same time to meet up. It was really important this time to get the message across that WDIV wouldn’t be able to create all of the daily news content without our expertise. If all of us gathered holding signs it wouldn’t look very impressive. We got around this using social media – sharing posts and online petitions. Our most effective tactic had to be the mobile billboard. It rolled around Ford Field, where the Detroit Lions play, before their last home game of the season.

How has this round of negotiations been different than previous contracts?
I’ve only been on staff for one other round of negotiations and that was in 2020. At that time, it seemed the most important thing was to get the deal done quickly to keep everyone working during the lockdown and keep our important journalism on the air for the community. Looking back, some in the unit felt we had given up too much for the sake of getting the contract signed, and it was important this time around to make up for it, and I feel like we did just that.

What message would you like to convey to other union members who may be inspired by your crew’s successful negotiation of a new contract?
Keep up the fight for what you feel is most important and stick together!

Erik Yettaw
7 years of service
WDIV employee since 2018

How has being a part of WDIV negotiations strengthened the bonds within your bargaining unit?
It really helped us all come together around the issue of potentially losing our jurisdiction over the cameras.

What about this newly ratified contract stands out as a significant improvement on 600’s last contract with Graham Media?
This was a huge improvement in this contract over any from before. We now have a raise every year, which hasn’t been done in a long time. We now have more time off, which is big.

What message would you like to convey to other union members who may be inspired by your crew’s successful negotiation of a new contract?
Stay in lock step with all of your members. Good things can happen if you keep a good line of communication open between all members. Always go into negotiations with a positive mind set, and a favorable result will come.

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