After a week of intensive bargaining, negotiators for ABC and about 3,000 broadcast employees repped by NABET have hammered out a tentative four-year deal.

Pact provides for 3% annual pay hikes and a hefty increase in ABC’s contribution rate to the National Assn. of Broadcast Employees and Technicians employee benefits plan from 3% to 5.5% of earnings for staff.

Terms of the deal would be less favorable for the union if it is not ratified by Sept. 26.

Deal includes 10 bargaining units covering technicians, newswriters and other job classifications.

Monday’s joint announcement by ABC and NABET contrasted sharply with the bitter contract negotiations in 1998 and 1999, which included an 11-week lockout by ABC.

Under the deal ultimately reached at that time, the first and fourth years saw 3.5% pay hikes with 3% increases in the second and third.

New deal follows a week of off-the-record talks between negotiators in Chicago; negotiations began in late February and contracts expired May 12.

The NABET-CWA Negotiating Committee agreed to a prompt ratification vote with a unanimous recommendation the members approve.

“This was a long and difficult process,” said John S. Clark, prexy of the NABET sector of the Communications Workers of America. “But both parties were able to hunker down on Aug. 8 and work through all the issues to reach an agreement our bargaining committee could recommend to our membership.”

Key issue in the talks, according to NABET veep Jim Joyce, centered on the union spurning ABC’s demand for a freeze in defined benefits due to funding shortfalls between the vested benefits and the market value of plan assets.

An actuary hired by NABET showed that an increased contribution rate would preclude a freeze, Joyce added.

“We’re pleased to reach a comprehensive agreement on the myriad of issues that both sides brought to the bargaining table over the past months, and we believe this mutually agreeable resolution re-establishes the historic workplace relationship of ABC and NABET-CWA,” said Jeff Ruthizer, ABC’s senior VP of labor relations. “We look forward to building on that relationship in the future.”

NABET-CWA members at ABC includes regular employees at the Alphabet’s television and radio networks and station operations. The unit encompasses New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco engineering technicians; New York desk assistants; Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco newswriters; New York radio talent coordinators; New York and San Francisco traffic coordinators; New York publicists; and Los Angeles plant maintenance and radio program coordinators.

Several thousand additional employees who work for ABC each year on a daily hire basis are also covered by the contracts, which would take effect upon ratification and expire March 31, 2007.