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Writers Strike Newscasts of CBS and ABC

March 03, 1987|JAY SHARBUTT and DENNIS McDOUGAL | Times Staff Writers

In the first network news writers' strike in the history of the Writers Guild of America, union members Monday walked off the job at the CBS and ABC networks and at seven network-owned stations.

A total of 525 members went on strike, the guild said. The walkout was the first against ABC and CBS since new, budget-conscious managements began running each company last year.

Among the stations hit by the walkout were CBS-owned KCBS-TV and KNX-AM in Los Angeles, where 72 guild members work. About 60 union members picketed outside CBS Television City on Fairfax Avenue and at the studios of KCBS-TV and KNX on Sunset Boulevard.

Monday's strike also was directed at the CBS and ABC radio and TV networks in Washington and New York, where such broadcasts as the "CBS Evening News," ABC's "World News Tonight" and ABC's late-hour "Nightline" originate. Also affected were ABC-owned WABC-TV in New York and CBS-owned WCBS-TV and WCBS Radio in New York and WBBM-TV and WBBM Radio in Chicago.

ABC-owned KABC-TV and KABC-AM were not affected because writers at both are covered by contracts with the National Assn. of Broadcast Employees and Technicians (NABET), rather than the writers guild.

Local and national newscasts went on as scheduled, using management personnel to fill in for the striking news writers, editors, desk assistants, promotional writers, researchers and graphic artists.

Mistake by Rather

No effects of strike were apparent on the two network evening newscasts, except at the start of Dan Rather's first broadcast on the "CBS Evening News," when he mistakenly said that CBS and NBC had been struck. He corrected himself near the program's conclusion, saying that CBS and ABC had been struck.

On ABC's "World News Tonight," anchorman Peter Jennings took note of the strike and said, "Those people on strike are our colleagues and our friends, and we hope it is resolved very soon."

The strike came as NABET, a larger, more powerful union, prepared to open negotiations today in San Diego with NBC. That union's contract expires March 31.

The strike began at 6 a.m. EST after all-night talks at CBS corporate headquarters failed to produce agreement on a new contract to replace the three-year pact that expired six hours earlier.

No new negotiations were immediately scheduled, network and guild officials said.

Guild's Statement

Mona Mangan, the guild's chief negotiator, accused CBS and ABC of refusing to budge "substantially" from original proposals and suggested that in the final morning hours of contract talks, the networks "revealed themselves as being eager to force a strike."

In her statement, Mangan said the networks wanted, among other things, the right to fire employees at will, to prevent employees from appealing layoffs through arbitration, to let managers write news copy and to let on-air reporters and anchors write copy for persons other than themselves.

Spokesmen for CBS and ABC declined to comment. But CBS did say it was "disappointed (that we) cannot reach an agreement."

Need to Cut Costs

The network also asserted that management proposals "address the basic and necessary issue of reducing operating cost and achieving a greater degree of flexibility in our local and network news operations."

CBS, which two years ago resisted a takeover attempt by cable television entrepreneur Ted Turner, underwent a major management shuffle in September, when board chairman Thomas H. Wyman was ousted and replaced by Laurance A. Tisch.

Also last year, ABC was purchased by Capital Cities Communications and NBC was by acquired by General Electric Corp.

The new managements all are trying to cut costs and run leaner operations, citing flat advertising revenues, declining viewership and increased competition from cable TV and independent stations. More than 2,000 ABC and CBS jobs have been eliminated and 300 have been cut at NBC over the last two years.

Threat to Quality Seen

Striker Kerry Sullivan, a KCBS-TV news writer for three years, charged that the recent cost-conscious moves on the part of all three networks were ushering in an age of declining news quality.

"It used to be that we thought our purpose was to give information," Sullivan said. "Now it seems to be to make money."

"The fact that they're trying to do away with arbitration and seniority is like having no union at all," said another Los Angeles striker, Eli Bregman, a CBS writer and guild member for more than 30 years.

A CBS executive in Los Angeles said that members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 45, were honoring the picket line even though their contract extends through September.

The absence of guild news writers has not had much effect either at Television City or KCBS-TV and KNX, but the absence of IBEW technicians has created headaches for the Channel 2 news department.

The last network news strike occurred in 1976, when NABET employees at NBC walked off the job. Nine years earlier, AFTRA-represented news staff members had struck all three networks, and such top anchors as CBS' Walter Cronkite were among the strikers.

Jay Sharbutt reported from New York and Dennis McDougal from Los Angeles.

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