For 17 years, Kelly Bates was a meteorologist for NBC 10, always cheerfully informing viewers about what the day’s weather had in store.
Now she is gone, with a cloud of recriminations hanging over the Providence market’s historic ratings leader.
The station, part of the national chain Sinclair, said it extended Bates a contract offer and was sad Bates chose not to accept it. Bates said she was unable to continue there under existing arrangements — notably, the wages and benefits they were offering.
So friends. This is it. I wanted to let you know that I am no longer employed by NBC10 Thank you for everything over the nearly 20 years of having the privilege of being a trusted person in the community. It has been one hell of a ride!— Kelly Bates (@KellyBatesRI) September 7, 2021
Now, thousands of people are signing a petition demanding Bates be reinstated. Her friends and supporters say the station made her an offer she had no choice but to refuse. And long-simmering tensions at NBC 10 are now bubbling to the surface, with concerns about morale and stagnant pay.
“I know people are leaving left and right,” Fletcher Fischer, the business manager for the union that represents workers at NBC 10, IBEW Local 1228, said Wednesday.
Bates has not been able to comment extensively about her own contract negotiations and subsequent departure, which was announced this week, but did make a statement to the Globe:
“While I respect the fact that WJAR management leaders are entitled to compensate employees with wages and benefits at their discretion, I found myself unable to continue working at NBC 10 under existing arrangements. Leaving this job was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make. I loved my job at NBC 10 and it makes me profoundly sad to leave it after 17 years.”
Fischer echoed what many of her friends have said privately: Their offer was “insulting.”
The station had cut her hours back to part-time 10 years ago. But Bates has had the opportunity to pick up other people’s hours when they had time off. Those opportunities have dried up recently, which was a significant financial burden, Fischer said. The most recent contract offer from the station was similar to previous contracts she’d signed, this one with a modest hourly pay bump, but that doesn’t tell the whole story: Taken together with the reduction in hours and overtime opportunities, Bates felt she was in a worse financial position than she was before, with an offer that was less than what she deserved.
“People at the station love to work there,” said Fischer, whose union includes two units and represents both on-air and off-air workers. “But at some point, people have to be able to pay their bills. And (Bates) wanted to be treated fairly.”
Vic Vetters, the vice president and general manager of the station that goes by the call letters WJAR but is mostly known locally as Channel 10, said in an emailed statement: “The WJAR team is saddened that meteorologist Kelly Bates is leaving the station after nearly 17 great years together. Kelly ultimately decided it was time to move on and elected not to renew her contract with us. We thank Kelly for her dedication to WJAR and her commitment to keeping our viewers informed with critical weather updates throughout the years. We wish her nothing but the best in her future endeavors.”
To be sure, working in the media can be a grind. Low pay, long hours, lousy assignments, the feeling that a vast underclass of young staffers are just replaceable cogs in an infernal machine — these were problems in 2021, just as they had been in decades past.
No current or former staffer would speak on the record for fear of harming their careers. But privately, NBC 10 staffers past and present say things have gotten worse recently. Staffers are currently working under a Sinclair-wide pay freeze. The station had layoffs in March, part of Sinclair’s corporate reductions. And contract negotiations, always fraught, have become even more challenging, they say. Even if they succeed in negotiating raises in their contracts, they won’t kick in because of the pay freeze, according to Fischer.
TV stations often have high turnover rates as ambitious young reporters climb the ladder, but people at the station say this is an unusually high level, especially for what’s considered to be a destination. This is a place to spend a long career, to one day follow in the footsteps of legends like the late investigative reporter Jim Taricani and the coffee-cup-saluting Frank Coletta.
People who have left in recent years have been replaced. But the departures of young journalists, with deep roots in the community and promising futures, have not gone unnoticed. The Bates situation is unusual in two respects: It involves a long-tenured staffer, and it has exploded into public view.
The dynamic is not unique to NBC 10, or to the news business in general. Employers around the country say they’re having a hard time attracting and keeping talent. This worker shortage, according to people on the labor side, is simply a virtue of people realizing through the COVID-19 pandemic that they deserved better treatment and better pay.
As one anonymous American newsroom leader told the Cronkite News Lab: “I heard about a burger place [whose] fry cooks will make double what my reporters make.”
In her statement to the Globe, Bates also thanked people for their support, which poured out especially after she posted a tearful video on TikTok. She is optimistic, she said, and is taking courses from FEMA in hopes of continuing to help people be prepared for natural disasters.
She is now looking for work after leaving a job she said she did not want to leave. Bates said on Twitter that “as a 49 year old round woman, it’s safe to say my television career is done.”
She added in a follow-up that nothing was said about her weight.
“Funny thing, I made it to a place where I didn’t get those calls and emails directly to me anymore. I think folks just accepted me for me and what I had to offer,” she said. “It was nice.”