NEW YORK — Saying a 15-week-old strike was sapping NBC's spirit, anchorman Tom Brokaw and 32 correspondents called on NBC President Robert C. Wright to redouble his efforts to come to terms with the 2,800 technicians and news staffers who walked out.
Although some strikers here praised the request, made in a letter to Wright, one executive of their union said Thursday that the pleading was late, "a little self-serving" and unlikely to have any effect in negotiations.
"It was nice, but it goes into the congratulatory telegram category," said Carrie Biggs-Adams, a member of the negotiating team of the National Assn. of Broadcast Employees and Technicians.
The president of Local 53 in Burbank, Biggs-Adams spoke by phone shortly before the union and NBC representatives began their second day of contract talks in Washington under the auspices of a federal mediator.
The correspondents' letter included several thinly veiled jabs at NBC's cost-trimming management. It was sent Wednesday as NBC and union officials began their first negotiations since Sept. 22.
Wright was not available for comment on the letter. NBC, in a statement, expressed hope that "the talks now going on in Washington can lead to a settlement that will bring our company back together again."
The letter indirectly suggested that Wright--a former General Electric executive who became head of NBC last year after G.E. bought the company and its parent, RCA--didn't fully realize the strike's effect on the network.
"Something is happening to NBC that is not good for the company, and we thought you should be aware of it," said the letter, whose signers included commentator John Chancellor, correspondent-anchor Connie Chung, White House correspondent Chris Wallace and "Today" newsman John Palmer. "As the NABET strike drags on, there is an ebbing of the spirit that propelled NBC from third place to first place (in the prime-time ratings)."
That matter of spirit, they said, "is impossible to quantify. It doesn't show up on the bottom line. . . . But it is as important as anything at NBC in keeping us on top."
They said they had "urged our friends in NABET to be realistic in their negotiations," then added:
"We urge you to consider the effect of this strike on the soul of NBC as you continue the bargaining process. We ask that you redouble your efforts to end the strike and in a fair and equitable manner for the good of NBC, as well as its employees."
About 350 of the strikers are news writers and producers who work at the five TV stations NBC owns--KNBC-TV Channel 4 in Burbank among them--and on such network programs as Brokaw's "NBC Nightly News."
Seven hundred NBC employees not on strike are filling in during the walkout, many of them doing two jobs--their usual one and one that a union member normally would do.
Brokaw's signature on the letter marked the first time he has commented publicly on the strike, although he and other correspondents previously have met with Wright to discuss ways to end the walkout.
During a six-week strike by CBS and ABC news writers earlier this year, anchormen Dan Rather of CBS and Peter Jennings of ABC each briefly joined their colleagues on the picket line at noon one day.
Brokaw said Thursday that he always had thought he could be more effective during the NBC strike "by being a conduit behind the scene," talking with management and union officials and trying to help resolve the dispute.
"I didn't want to be a lightning rod just to get my face on Page 6 somewhere," he said.
The letter to Wright, he said, expressed "what is increasingly the concern of people in here (NBC) about how long this can be sustained," he said, referring to news operations with a reduced, makeshift work force.
"We didn't want anyone to have any illusions about that, and I know he does not. But we feel equally strongly, frankly, that it's incumbent upon the union to get its act in gear. There's far too much polarization.
"I think, as much as anything, that the correspondents and the reporters were feeling frustrated by all this. We have to deal with it every day and we know the people out on the line, many of whom are kind of hapless victims of their own leadership and are in pretty desperate straits."
That's why he and his colleagues decided to send their letter to Wright on the day that union and management negotiators were starting "this crucial meeting," Brokaw said. "We just hope it adds to the urgency."
The strike began June 29 when NBC put into effect a two-year contract that union negotiators had rejected. Key issues in the walkout include job security and jurisdiction.