ABC News, WGA East reach deal

Union secures wage gains amid downsizing

Writers Guild of America East has reached a tentative contract agreement with ABC News covering about 250 staffers.

The three-year pact includes annual 2% pay hikes and job protections for newswriters, editors, desk assistants, production assistants, graphic artists and researchers working for ABC News in Gotham and Washington, D.C. as well as for WABC-TV New York. The wage gains are notable at a time when ABC News is undergoing a massive downsizing of its operations. In February, ABC News said it would shed about 300 positions, or about 20% of its worldwide staff.

The pact, if ratified by affected WGA East members, would replace a contract that expired on Jan. 31. The WGA East’s negotiations with ABC were far less contentious this time around than in its previous round of talks, when a deal was not reached until more than a year after the prior contract expired.

WGA East exec director Lowell Peterson noted that guild-repped employees are highly skilled and thus vital to allowing ABC News to shift to a leaner operations infrastructure in which all staffers will be required to juggle multiple tasks that were once distinct job categories in their own right. The tentative agreement gives ABC News more flexibility in assigning jobs to WGA East-repped staffers in exchange for job security protections for those affected.

“The contract takes into consideration the direction the industry is headed because of technology and economics, and recognizes that our members are particularly well suited to thrive in this environment,” said Peterson. “They know how to structure and present news in a reliable, compelling way, and they have welcomed the opportunity to broaden their skills and knowledge.”

Terms of the deal call for WGA East-repped staffers to receive wage increases of at least 2% per year in each year of the contract, with the first hike set to take affect on Monday. For the first time, the contract sets a minimum salary and severance package for writers who produce shows for WABC-TV, as well as a training stipend for any WABC-TV newswriters who may be laid off as a result of a change in staff seniority rankings. A number of standard payments, including the promo/continuity availability fee and acting editor fee, also are increased in the new contract.

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