Dems Drop TV Station From New Hampshire Debate Citing Labor Dispute

New Hampshire’s largest TV station kicked off the stage

Sen. Bernie Sanders prepares to speak at an event in Manchester, New Hampshire / AP
December 11, 2015

The Democratic Party tossed one of New Hampshire’s most influential news organizations from its debate stage on Friday due to a union dispute.

The Democratic National Committee announced that WMUR, the largest television station in the Granite State, will no longer host the party’s next presidential debate because the station is mired in a dispute with the local International Brotherhood of Electric Workers.

"As a result of WMUR's unwillingness to move forward on scheduling negotiations between the Hearst Corporation and Production Department employees represented by IBEW Local 1228 prior to the debate, we will no longer include WMUR as a co-sponsor of the debate, and their talent will not be participating in any way," the party’s chairwoman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, said in a release.

The labor dispute has already attracted the attention of the Democratic field. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., VT) met with picketing WMUR workers on December 4. Fletcher Fischer, a spokesman for the local union, told that Sanders, who is running neck-in-neck with Hillary Clinton in the nation’s first primary state, was sympathetic to the union cause.

"Senator Sanders was very helpful and we are grateful," Fischer said.

A WMUR representative told the New Hampshire Union Leader that it was "disappointed" in the Democrats’ decision, but pledged to continue bargaining "in good faith" with the union.

"We’ll continue to cover the debate, and the candidates and campaigns. As for the negotiations with this particular union, we will continue with the policy we’ve followed with the many prior union negotiations we’ve successfully concluded—to negotiate in good faith, and directly and not through third parties," the station said.

IBEW Local 1228 represents 140 workers at WMUR. The union had 501 total members, according to its most recent federal labor filings. Members pay $22.50 in dues each month, contributing nearly $550,000 to union coffers in 2014. The union did not respond to an email seeking comment about the Democratic Party’s decision.

The debate will begin at 8 p.m. on December 19, just 25 minutes before the New York Jets kick off against the Dallas Cowboys.

Update 4:53 p.m.: The New Hampshire Republican Party called the decision disrespectful of local politics.

"It is unfortunate that Hillary Clinton and her Democrat Party allies would try to impugn the integrity of this respected news organization by forcing WMUR out as a debate sponsor," the GOP said in a release. "This petty attack on New Hampshire’s largest television station threatens the traditions of our First-in-the-Nation primary."

Update 9:21 p.m.: Union spokesman Fletcher Fischer said that he had been in talks with the DNC and Democratic candidates throughout the dispute over union members' status in pension plans, as well as wages. Both sides were told to negotiate before the scheduled debate--a provision the company balked at, according to Fischer. He said that the decision did not surprise him, while blaming WMUR parent company Hearst for the cancellation.

"Hearst said they wouldn't sit down ahead of the debate. It's a shame because there are a lot of workers, union and non-union, who worked hard to prepare for this," Fischer said.

The two sides are scheduled to return to the bargaining table on Dec. 21.