By the mid-1970s, NPR had developed an excellent reputation with a small but loyal and very appreciative audience. We had respect within the industry too, as other networks began luring away our reporters. That was not hard to do, given the salary disparity between commercial and public broadcasting. Something had to be done.
We tried forming an NPR Employees Association as a means of taking our concerns about salaries and other grievances to management. NPR insulted us with paternalism, making us feel that merely consenting to a meeting was doing us a favor. We needed some muscle, so we organized.
The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) informed NPR that enough of us had signed up to warrant an election. The NPR management of that era didn’t know the Wagner Act from Taft-Hartley, so it got some muscle in the form of one of those law firms that fights workers. The firm had management issue a series of bulletins telling us how good we had it and how a union would make our lives miserable. We were told that unions were anathema to our quaint, nonprofit, public radio “culture.” We were told that a union would demand restrictive work rules that would result in our no longer being allowed to edit our own audiotapes. What they said about salaries at commercial stations and networks was laughable. At a time when Barbara Walters was becoming the first news employee to make a million