Deadline looms for NABET strikers

ABC offer lets staff keep benefits

The National Assn. of Broadcast Employees & Technicians has until today to formally accept or reject an offer from ABC that would keep health and life insurance and disability benefits in force for 1,600 locked-out staff members for the duration of the labor dispute between the net and the union.

A week ago, ABC suspended the staffers’ benefits, saying it was standard procedure during strikes or legal lockouts. But the net said NABET could keep the benefits in force by assuming the cost of covering them, much as the union did after a work stoppage at ABC in 1977.

High hopes

“We had been hopeful that suspension of benefits might be avoided by a prompt acceptance by the union of the reasonable assurances we had sought to end the lockout,” Jeffrey Rosen, ABC’s veep for human resources, wrote to the locked-out employees in a memo obtained by Daily Variety.

After striking for 24 hours on Nov. 2, NABET refused to promise it would give advance notice of future walkouts, prompting the net to refuse re-entry to the workers.

“Unfortunately, the union has continued to reject our proposal and there is no way of knowing when the lockout will end,” Rosen wrote.

Long-term disability and life insurance benefits, as well as health care and dependent day-care accounts, were suspended at midnight Nov. 23. Medical, substance abuse and dental benefits are due for suspension tonight at midnight.

“If NABET is prepared to bear the cost, the company will promptly reinstate” most of the benefits, Rosen wrote. The offer applies only to staffers and does not extend to the several hundred NABET-represented daily hires who are also locked out.

Taking charge

The union seems prepared to step in. In a letter to NABET chief John Clark, Communications Workers of America president Morton Bahr said the “management intimidation effort will not work.”

“I want every locked-out member to know the CWA guarantees neither they nor any member of their family will have to pay any more for health care treatment than they would have under the company plan,” Bahr wrote. “CWA members have been confronted with this in the past. We didn’t let it dampen our enthusiasm for a decent contract then and we won’t now.”

NABET has been without a contract at ABC since March 1997. The two sides are due to sit down today for three days of talks in Iselin, N.J., under the supervision of a federal mediator.

Meanwhile, ABC — which had won favorable rulings from the National Labor Relations Board and a judge in Los Angeles over various aspects of the NABET lockout — suffered a minor setback last week when the same L.A. Superior Court judge denied the net’s request to issue contempt citations against three locked-out engineers at KGO in San Francisco.

The net had accused the three of violating a temporary restraining order by standing behind a reporter during a live remote, something that NABET pickets had been doing regularly until Judge Robert O’Brien ordered a stop to it.

While O’Brien declined to cite the engineers for contempt, lawyers for both sides differed as to whether there was ambiguity in his initial ruling on where pickets could stand in relation to working camera crews.

O’Brien’s restraining order forbids “disrupting or interfering with taping or live broadcasting by crews by placing or thrusting any person or object, including picket signs, in line of sight of camera.”

Gena Stinnett, a member of NABET Local 57 in Burbank, issued a statement saying the judge “agreed there was some vagueness or ambiguity in the language” but that any clarification would have to await a full hearing on Thursday.

But Julie Hoover, a spokeswoman for ABC, said the judge stated unequivocally that his restraining was clear about what the pickets could and could not do.

“He said, ‘There’s nothing ambiguous about my order,’ ” according to Hoover. “They’re not allowed to be within view of the camera.”