CNN Agrees to Pay $76 Million in Backpay to Settle NLRB Case

Author: Robert S. Teachout, XpertHR Legal Editor

January 14, 2020

CNN has agreed to pay $76 million in backpay to settle a long-standing case with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). According to the NLRB, the monetary settlement is the largest in the agency's history and is more than it collects on average during a typical year. The settlement funds will be distributed to more than 300 individuals.

The dispute began in 2003 when CNN ended a contract with Team Video Services (TVS), a company that had been providing video services for CNN's New York City and Washington, DC bureaus. It then hired new employees to perform the same work without recognizing or bargaining with the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians, Communications Workers of America (NABET-CWA), the union that had represented the replaced technicians. The union filed a complaint with the NLRB claiming CNN had acted to avoid dealing with the union.

After an 82-day hearing in 2008, an administrative law judge ruled that CNN had committed multiple violations of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), including not bargaining with the union. The ALJ determined that:

  • CNN had become a successor employer after it terminated TVS's contract and hired a new workforce;
  • The contract termination had been motivated by CNN's desire to operate without a union; and
  • The hiring process - in which CNN conveyed to the workers that their prior employment with TVS and union affiliation disqualified them from employment - was "a sham."

In 2014, the NLRB agreed and ordered CNN to bargain with the unions and provide backpay to the terminated technicians. The DC Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017 adopted the Board's findings, and ordered CNN to recognize and bargain with the union. However, the appellate court returned the case to the NLRB for further consideration of the backpay issue. The parties then agreed to resolve the case through the NLRB's Alternative Dispute Resolution program.

According to a statement by NABET-CWA, under the settlement terms, CNN will pay $76 million to the NLRB, which will then make payments to the affected workers. The payments will compensate workers for the protracted length of the case and adverse tax consequences from the size of the payouts, NABET-CWU said. For its part, the union will withdraw all pending charges against CNN.

"This incredible settlement in workers' favor should send a very clear message to CNN and to other employers that union-busting is illegal and has consequences," said NABET-CWA President Charlie Braico.

A CNN spokesperson said, "After more than a decade of litigation, negotiation and appeals we are pleased to have resolved a longstanding legal matter."