AUGUSTA – All five Democratic gubernatorial candidates on the primary ballot have pledged not to buy campaign advertising on WGME-13, Portland’s CBS affiliate, because of a labor dispute at the station.

About 40 union engineers and technicians have been working at the station since February without a negotiated contract, according to Matthew Beck, an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers organizer and former news producer and director, who said he worked 19 years at the station.

“We’re accusing them of bargaining in bad faith,” Beck said. “We think they’re trying to bust the union.”

The ad boycott, called for by Manchester-based IBEW Local 1837, will likely cost WGME tens of thousands of dollars from now until June, the union contends.

“The Maine Democratic Party is proud to support the workers of IBEW Local 1837 and applauds all of our gubernatorial primary candidates in supporting this cause,” Maine Democratic Party Executive Director Mary-Erin Casale said in the IBEW press release. “We encourage all parties involved to reach a fair collective bargaining agreement as soon as possible.”

The union-led boycott agreed to by the five Democrats — Pat McGowan, Libby Mitchell, John Richardson, Steve Rowe and Rosa Scarcelli — extends to organizations such as political action committees that support the candidates.

It is not clear what financial effect the boycott will have on WGME, its owners, or on labor relations at the company.

A public relations employee for Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc., would only confirm the corporation owns WGME. Station executives, including WGME General Manager Tom Humpage, declined comment.

Maryland-based Sinclair says its broadcasts reach 22 percent of U.S. homes with televisions, with direct ownership or connections to 58 stations in 35 U.S. markets, according to its website. The majority of its affiliates are aligned with the Fox network.

Political advertising is an important component of the corporation’s revenue.

Nationally, Sinclair lost $34.2 million in 2009 compared with 2008, attributing much of the loss “to the absence of political advertising revenues,” according to its 2009 annual report. The only larger ad-revenue hit was $34.8 million due to a decline in automobile advertising.

In the 2009 report, Sinclair said it expected better results in 2010 based on a healthier auto industry, an improving economy and more political advertising. Sinclair told investors that a recent Supreme Court decision allowing corporations to fund political advertising entitled shareholders to expect higher profits in 2010.

Sinclair’s stock price has risen from $1.38 per share on Feb. 10, 2009, to $7.51 per share at the close of trading Wednesday.

MaineToday Media, owners of The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel daily newspapers, the weekly Coastal Journal in Bath and their respective Web sites, has a content-sharing partnership with WGME, which was purchased by Sinclair in 2000.

 

MaineToday Media State House Reporter Ethan Wilensky-Lanford can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

ewlanford@mainetoday.com