At the NPR, an army of temps resents a job full of anxiety and insecurity


Julia Botero was happy to go on and determined to stay at the NPR. After completing an internship at the public broadcaster in Washington in 2013, he started a year as a temporary employee, moving between job creation in NPR news programs, "All Things Considered" and "Morning Edition". ".

Botero understood immediately what he was going to meet. As a "timing", he fluctuated among unfamiliar colleagues and faced a series of ever-changing responsibilities, some of which had never been trained. His job contracts were sometimes as short as two weeks, at the end of which he would have to convince a manager to prolong it.

Worse was the sense of constant competition among his fellow temps, many of whom were fishing to be hired for a limited number of permanent positions. "The only person I felt I could trust," he said, "was the person I was dating, who was in the same position I was in." After a year of uncertainty, he left, taking a job as a reporter for a group of public radio stations in the state of New York.

What is surprising about Botero's experience is his suspense in NPR.

For decades, the public broadcaster has relied on a group of temporary journalists to produce its oral news and popular news programs. Without temporary workers – who are subject to resolution without cause – NPR probably could not be NPR. The temps require almost every important job in NPR writing: they propose ideas, assign stories, modify, report and produce. Temps not only books guests heard in interviews, often writes questions that guests ask guests.

And there are a lot of them. According to union representatives, between 20 and 22% of the workforce of the drafting of 483 members of the NPR (or one in five people) are temps. The number varies from week to week, while the temps come and go.

The management of NPR cites a slightly lower figure, 16 percent, although its count reflects managers and interns and other employees in departments that are not represented by the union. NPR states that the overall ratio of temporary workers to permanent employees has remained more or less stable for several years.

Resentment among prisoners for their status has boiled below the surface of the NPR for years, but tensions have begun to erupt in recent months. Some temporary employees have raised complaints following a sexual harassment scandal involving Michael Oreskes, former head of the NPR editorial board. Oreskes has been accused by several women, including a temporary employee, of misconduct. Oreskes was forced to resign from the NPR last year; several women have said that his behavior has highlighted the vulnerability of temporary employees, who fear they can be deceived to complain or resist a too aggressive manager.

The outrage over Oreskes has turned into a broader employee inquiry into the timing of the timing at NPR. Following a series of "listening sessions" conducted between 40 current and former temporary journalists, NPR employees published a report in May reporting a series of allegedly abusive complaints and practices.

Among them: Temps were often left unclear how long their jobs would last, how long they would be paid, who they would report, or what their title was. They also said they received little feedback from supervisors after completing an assignment, and that they were "systematically" neglected in NPR recruitment efforts.

Several respondents for this story use the same word to describe the temporary NPR system: "Exploitation".

In any case, the NPR is unusual among broadcast media organizations to the extent of its temporary workforce.

About 5% of the staff of a typical TV station were employed part-time or temporary, according to a survey conducted last year by the Radio Television Digital News Association. Radio stations, which usually have much smaller staff than TV stations, reported an average of only one part-timer or temp in the survey. The number of temporary workers among the stations has steadily declined over the last 10 years, while the recession has eased, said Robert Papper, who conducted the survey.

Other types of news organizations employ few employees. The only journalists officially designated as temporary in the Washington Post editorial office are six "extended trainees" who are employed with the expectation that they will one day fill a permanent job when they open an appropriate one, said Managing Editor Tracy Grant.

NPR relies on the timing to address "a series of needs," said Loren Mayor, president of operations. He said that temporary workers occupy permanent staff when they go on leave, sick leave or parental leave, or when journalistic events justify it.

"Being a media company that strives to be innovative and agile, we need talented people who can get in the short term to help us experiment with a new idea or to pilot a new program," said the mayor. "As an avant-garde organization, we need journalists and staff editors for targeted news events like the election."

In a long response by e-mail, the mayor made no mention of any financial advantage in the use of temps. But the potential seems obvious: temporary employees are only paid when they work and work only when managers decide. This offers to NPR, a non-profit organization, flexibility in the management of payroll and wide discretion with respect to work tasks.

In a follow-up interview, a spokeswoman, Isabel Lara, said that costs are not a factor in the employment of NPR temporary journalists.

NPR timelines are guaranteed minimum wages on the basis of a contract with the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), the union representing the majority of employees. The scale of payments starts at around $ 21.63 an hour, or around $ 45,000 a year on the basis of 52 weeks of full-time work. Temporary employees can also benefit from health insurance and other benefits if they work more than 30 hours per week in a two-week pay period.

But not much else is assured for this group.

In interviews, eight current and former people described their employment at the NPR as a stressful and precarious experience. Most spoke on condition of anonymity in order not to jeopardize current or future assignments.

Like Botero, many said they did not feel prepared for some of the assignments they had received. They also described a sense of vulnerability and insecurity, as the NPR maintains a large amount of temps that can easily replace them.

"I felt I could never make a mistake because, if I did, they would simply hire someone else," said a former employee, who tried for two years before moving forward. "I felt I could not take off Christmas, I can not go to my high school meeting, because if I do, I'll be out of the loop."

For the temps that do not disembark a longer work assignment, the NPR system guarantees all the financial uncertainty, they said different. For example, a week's employment could be followed by a longer and unpaid dismissal followed by another call on the return. A long interval between an assignment and the other does not just disappear the income of a temporary employee, but threatens to leave them with gaps in insurance coverage.

"There have been many weeks when I was not sure I'd come back," said Becky Sullivan, who attempted for two and a half years to become a permanent producer of "All Things Considered." Sullivan, who is a trade union administrator, says: "It's an experience that I hope I never have to repeat."

With the SAG-AFTRA contract, management can dismiss a temporary employee for no reason, whenever necessary and without explanation.

Furthermore, NPR has no obligation to offer a permanent job, even after years of employment. Some employees have been temps for so long that they are known as "permatemps".

A former Times said that he spent three years in various jobs in "Morning Edition", "All Things Considered" and in his version for the weekend before giving up the hope of reaching a permanent position. His responsibilities were as follows: editing, research, presentation of ideas for history, writing of segment introductions, mixing of recordings, interviews.

He applied for work when they came open, but has never been permanently hired. "At that point, I was really frustrated," he said. "Do you wonder, why am I still doing this and no one will hire me?"

If it's gone, and eventually got a job as a producer at a podcasting company.

Another temporary described his frustrations to the union organizers at the start of this year: "You feel like you have the boy who does not intend to put a ring on it".

According to Sullivan, the mayor has never responded directly to the group of temps that made recommendations following the forced resignation of Oreskes. But the mayor said that the NPR has begun to implement a series of reforms to improve the amount of resources.

The most significant change: NPR in April converted 26 positions that had been occupied by temporary employees in permanent jobs (the union said that all positions were held by employees who would be working for more than a year). The mayor said that more temporary jobs will be made permanent in the future, although he has not offered any commitment for a number or time.

The trade union representatives of the NPR remain however monitored. They note that during the bruises negotiated for a new three-year contract last year, the management of the NPR proposed to eliminate all the benefits for the temp (except those required by law), including health insurance and holidays. These proposals were withdrawn in the context of a broader opposition from the staff.

The mayor says that the goal of the NPR is "not to eliminate the use of temps, but to make sure we are using temps for the right reasons".

He added: "We are aware that it can be difficult for people to face insecurity leading to temporary work and we want to work with our union to find ways to tackle this problem."


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