Strike botched, some say

Disappointed NABET members are decertifying

Despite the end of an 11-week lockout by ABC on Friday, some members of the National Assn. of Broadcast Employees & Technicians feel deeply disappointed with their union for its handling of the crisis and are committed to finding other representation.

At least three NABET bargaining units at ABC outposts in Los Angeles and Chicago took steps last week to decertify, even as a return-to-work agreement was within reach.

Meanwhile, officials at NABET and its parent union, the 650,000-member Communications Workers of America, kept up their drumbeat against ABC and owner Walt Disney Co. in the very same news release in which they announced an end to the lockout.

Call for all-Disney meeting

CWA president Morton Bahr said he had asked AFL-CIO president John Sweeney to call a meeting of all unions representing workers at Disney and its subsidiaries.

“We’re going to have to develop a unified, multi-union approach in dealing with the Disney empire and the contemptuous attitude that Disney management takes toward its workers and the collective bargaining process,” Bahr said. “It became very clear to us that ABC’s labor practices are now totally dominated by the parent company.”

Some blame union

But some NABET members do not see ABC as the villain. The target of their wrath is their own union.

“It’s wonderful news to be going back to work, but it’s long overdue,” said Sandy Nunez, a news producer at the ABC News bureau in L.A. who signed a petition to decertify. “The union finally decided to put the interests of their members first, instead of their own political agendas. We are getting the same thing that we could have gotten 2-1/2 months ago had the union been more professional in its dealings with the company.”

Nunez said she and some other NABET members were not informed by the union that it planned to stage a one-day work stoppage against ABC on Nov. 2. When union officials refused to promise they would provide advance notice of such strikes in the future, ABC locked out 2,200 workers the following day.

“It blew up in their face,” Nunez said. “We will never forgive these people for what they did to us, for the way they took us out, with no warning. They took us into a strike situation and finally 2-1/2 months later they decide to do the right thing and get us back to work.”

Looking at decertification

Nunez and other members of the 63-strong L.A. newswriters bargaining unit attended a hearing Friday at the National Labor Relations Board, which set Feb. 16 as the date for a decertification election.

In Chicago on Friday, members of the ABC newswriters unit submitted a decertification petition to the NLRB shortly before they learned the lockout was over.

“At this point, we’re relieved — ‘happy’ would be overstating it, after two months being out,” said Marsha Jordan, a writer and producer at WLS, the ABC O&O, for 23 years. “This is my second strike, and I’m not too happy.”

Jordan acknowledged that going back to work “takes a little sting out of the decertification,” but said the effort will go ahead despite union leaders’ attempts at dissuasion.

‘Little confidence’ in union

Earlier last week, as word of progress in the talks came out of New York, Jordan hedged her bets. “After this much time,” she said, “there is little confidence that the union or the company will not screw it up again.”

On Thursday, 17 program coordinators at the net’s two L.A. radio stations, KABC and KLOS, held a decertification vote, although the results were inconclusive because of challenges to several voters’ eligibility. The NLRB is to rule on the challenges in a few days.

Nevertheless, NABET Local 57 president Gena Stinnett called the vote a win for the union, and said the decertification push was the result of “an aggressive and heavy-handed campaign” by the network.

“Disney/ABC’s transparent attempts to promote discord from within our ranks has failed, and will continue to fail,” Stinnett said Friday.

Monya Laurent, a producer at KABC Radio for 15 years and a signer of the decertification petition, responded by saying the union “acts as though we’re idiots, that we can’t think for ourselves.”

Free at last

Laurent said she and her co-workers had been “set free from the union” by the return-to-work pact.

“The union held us hostage,” she said Saturday. “We saw so many disgruntled units. They were mad because when the union got the final contract package, they held onto it and would not let us vote.”

ABC presented NABET with what it said would be its last offer on Dec. 11. A week later, on Dec. 18, the net proposed a return-to-work agreement, but heard nothing from the union for another 19 days. Nor did the union present the contract to the membership for ratification. NABET spokesman Tom Donahue said the various locals were reviewing the document but that it would not be voted upon until a return-to-work pact was in place.

Now that it is, union leaders say the ratification vote will quickly follow, most likely in the next two weeks.

“NABET views this as a major victory,” union spokeswoman Becca Sharp told Daily Variety. “This will enable our members to go back to work and vote on the final proposal that ABC has put on the table based on the merits of the contract — without a sword hanging over their heads.”

The lockout was officially over at 5 p.m. Friday for the 1,600 staff members and several hundred daily hires affected, and the net prepared to schedule the return of those who might be needed in the following 72 hours. While they were gone, their places were taken by management and replacement workers serving as camera operators, producers and in other behind-the-scenes positions.

“The return of our NABET-represented employees and the closing of what has been a difficult period for all concerned — one that I wish could have been avoided — is a very welcome development,” said ABC president Robert Iger.

Both sides made concessions. On Jan. 8, NABET agreed to provide strike warnings, and last week ABC said it would submit to arbitration several cases of workers who were fired for alleged acts of sabotage and violence during the lockout.