Politics

Brown Presses iHeart Media CEO on Layoffs

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Following mass layoffs by iHeart Media Inc. last week that included the termination of longtime WNCD 93.3-FM host Fred “Fast Freddie” Woak, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown is seeking answers from the national radio chain’s CEO.

Brown, D-Ohio, sent a letter Thursday to Robert Pittman, CEO of iHeart Media, that raised concerns about the company paying millions in bonus compensation to the executive prior to the company’s 2018 bankruptcy, and questioned how paying bonuses to executives while laying off employees benefits the long-term interests of the company.

He requested responses to the questions he posed by Feb. 14.

IHeart Media announced Jan. 14 that it would increase its use of technology and artificial intelligence, resulting in job cuts in all of its markets. In a Facebook post a week ago, Woak — who has worked for the station since 1988 — confirmed he was one of the casualties of the restructuring.

The media conglomerate operates more than 850 stations, including six in the Youngstown market, all housed in its Boardman location: Mix 99.9-FM, The Bull 106.1, 95.9 Kiss-FM, WKBN Newsradio 570-AM, WNCD and SportsAnimal WNIO 1390-AM.

Also losing his job in the restructuring is Ron Potesta, who hosted a local sports show weekdays from noon to 3 p.m. on WNIO.

“According to numerous news reports, iHeartMedia recently announced countrywide layoffs as part of the company’s new organizational structure,” Brown wrote, according to a news release issued by his office.

“Although the company has not released the total number of workers who lost their jobs, it is reported that hundreds of workers were terminated and that the layoffs were concentrated in small and medium media markets,” he continued. “It is difficult enough to understand the decision to continue the hollowing out of local media outlets by laying off disc jockeys in smaller communities. But it is particularly difficult to make sense of this decision given that it came after a significant increase in the company’s executive compensation over the last few years.”

The letter further presses company leadership on how they plan to assist those workers laid off by the company, asking about severance packages, priority hiring and training for these affected workers.

A full copy of the letter follows:

Dear Mr. Pittman:

I write in response to iHeartMedia’s recent announcement that the company is laying off employees across the country, including dozens of employees at radio stations in Ohio. I am particularly concerned about these layoffs in light of additional news reports that the company significantly increased executive compensation the year before entering bankruptcy and have since asked the bankruptcy judge to approve more executive bonus pay. It is hard to understand why it is in the long-term interest of the company to significantly increase executive compensation while making significant job cuts.

According to numerous news reports, iHeartMedia recently announced countrywide layoffs as part of the company’s new organizational structure. Although the company has not released the total number of workers who lost their jobs, it is reported that hundreds of workers were terminated and that the layoffs were concentrated in small and medium media markets. It is difficult enough to understand the decision to continue the hollowing out of local media outlets by laying off disc jockeys in smaller communities. But it is particularly difficult to make sense of this decision given that it came after a significant increase in the company’s executive compensation over the last few years.

According to reporting by The Wall Street Journal, you received more than $9 million in bonuses on top of your annual pay of $1.25 million in 2017, the year before the company initiated bankruptcy proceedings. Other reports indicate that the bankruptcy judge approved the company’s restructuring plan in January 2019, which included another $9.3 million incentive bonus for your 2018 work with the company. I ask you to answer the following questions to help the affected workers better understand the company’s justification for these two seemingly contradictory decisions:

1) How many workers were affected by iHeartMedia’s recent layoff announcement? Of those workers, how many are in Ohio?

2) The company is reportedly giving severance to the affected workers. Please provide details about the severance provided, including whether it includes severance pay and if so how much and whether it includes health care benefits, and if so for how long.

3) Is the company giving affected workers priority consideration in the hiring process for any currently open positions in the company? Is the company going to give affected workers priority consideration in the hiring process for any positions that become open in the future? If so, for how long will affected workers be given hiring preference?

4) Is the company offering or paying for any training affected workers might seek to help them find new employment? If so, please provide details about the training offered or paid for, including the type of training, the length of time a worker can pursue such training, and, in the case of training paid for by iHeartMedia, the amount the company will pay for the worker to obtain such training.

Thank you for your consideration of this letter. Please provide written responses to these questions by February 14th.

Pictured: Longtime WNCD 93.3-FM host Fred “Fast Freddie” Woak was terminated as part of iHeart Media Inc. restructuring.

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.