The Democratic National Committee is threatening to revoke ABC affiliate WMUR’s sponsorship of its Dec. 19 presidential debate amid an ongoing labor dispute at the New Hampshire station, the party said Thursday.
All three Democratic candidates for president—Hillary Clinton, Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders—have urged the station’s leadership, including parent company Hearst, to begin negotiations with IBEW Local 1228 before the debate. While there had been indications that talks about adding the union’s members to the station’s pension plan would start before the candidates take the stage in Manchester later this month.
“We expect there to be a resolution to the pension issue,” DNC spokesman Eric Walker said Thursday. “The option to remove WMUR as a sponsor is on the table if that doesn’t happen.”
WMUR, the only local TV station with reach all across the Granite State, is sponsoring the debate with ABC News, the New Hampshire Union Leader and St. Anselm College. If the station were to lose its sponsorship rights, it would give up its branding opportunities and the chance for its talent to question candidates.
“We won’t comment on our negotiations with the union other than that they’re ongoing,” Jeff Bartlett, WMUR’s president and general manager, said in a statement.
Clinton and Sanders have both written to Bartlett to voice their support for the union, which represents 22 workers in the production department. When Sanders visited the station’s Manchester studios earlier this month to tape an interview, he told union members that he planned to push the issue with Bartlett.
O’Malley’s New Hampshire state director, John Bivona, spoke to Bartlett on Thursday and concluded that “it is becoming more apparent that WMUR management does not intend to honor their commitment to negotiate with workers prior to the debate.”
Bivona urged Clinton and Sanders to pull their ads from the station until negotiations begin (the cash-strapped O’Malley campaign doesn’t have any current buys). He also asked WMUR to stop airing any previously taped interviews with O'Malley until the talks start and encouraged the other two campaigns to do the same.
The Clinton campaign pointed to its candidate’s letter, dated Oct. 23, and directed questions to the DNC. The Sanders campaign did not respond to requests for comment.