News & Politics

WAMU Employees Have Unionized

WAMU's headquarters on Connecticut Avenue, Northwest. Photograph by Jeff Elkins

WAMU employees announced Thursday that they are forming a union with SAG-AFTRA and will ask American University for recognition.

In a petition the union released publicly, the employees cite “deeply ingrained internal racism, high turnover among women of color, disparities in compensation, a reliance on temporary staff who lack job security, and allegations of sexual harassment by a former staff member” among their reasons for organizing.

In a statement to Washingtonian on Friday, American University says it’s “reviewing the correspondence and will be determining next steps.” The university notes it is “investing significant time and resources at WAMU to ensure we provide a safe, diverse, and inclusive workplace.” The statement continues:

These efforts include implementing anti-racism, diversity, equity and inclusion training for all staffers, overhauling the University’s sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and discrimination complaint procedures and policies and providing training on these new procedures and policies, working with an external consultant to evaluate and enhance WAMU’s HR operations, and launching a task force to consult widely with current and former staff and make recommendations for how to improve WAMU’s workplace and culture. Staff are essential to our mission and we are committed to providing a wide range of support. AU has productive working relationships with unions representing other staff at the University and we look forward to continuing our efforts to improve the work culture at WAMU.

Grad students at AU, a private university, are represented by a union, and last month other employees asked the university to recognize their union.

WAMU has gone through a summer of great turmoil that spilled into open revolt among staffers following the departure of multiple women of color and serial sexual harassment allegations against former WAMU reporter Martin Di Caro. General manager JJ Yore lost his job in the wake of the staff uprising, and former WAMU content chief Andi McDaniel had to withdraw from the CEO post at Chicago Public Media as questions were raised about the management.  Last month, DCist, which WAMU owns, reported that Yore and McDaniel tried unsuccessfully to fire Di Caro but were thwarted by American University, which operates the public radio station.

There have been multiple attempts over recent years to organize WAMU staff. This effort dates to 2019, and a WAMU source tells Washingtonian that 80 people—99 percent of eligible staff—signed the petition, which you can read below:

Updated 10/2/2020 to include American University’s statement. 

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Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.

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