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NBC Union OKs New Pact but 28 'No' Votes Keep Walkout Going

October 20, 1987|JAY SHARBUTT | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Despite membership approval of a proposed contract by more than a 2-1 margin, the National Assn. of Broadcast Employees and Technicians remained on strike against NBC Monday--all because of 28 negative votes.

But the union expressed hope that the 16-week-old walkout could be over by the end of the week.

The unusual situation in which 1% of the union's 2,800 NBC employees determined the fate of the other 99% stemmed from rejections of contract offers by two small NABET units representing air-conditioning and maintenance personnel in Burbank and couriers in Chicago. The units have a total of 50 workers.

The union said last week that if any of its 14 units rejected their respective contracts proposed in NBC's "master agreement," the strike would continue.

After the announcement of the voting results Monday, both union spokesman John Krieger and an NBC spokeswoman here said the two sides would schedule meetings with officials of the dissenting units in Burbank and Chicago to try to resolve the remaining contract disputes.

NABET was trying to set those meetings for today or Wednesday, Krieger said, "and hopefully (we'll) have it ratified by the units by the end of the week."

He said the Chicago courier group, with 20 members, rejected NBC's offer by a vote of 17 to 1. The Burbank unit, with 30 members, rejected the pact by a vote of 11 to 8.

Overall, a total of 1,507 NABET members voted to accept NBC's offer, with 738 against it, Krieger said. Most of the votes were cast by the engineering group, which has the largest number of members in the union.

Had all the union's units ratified NBC's contract, it would have gone into effect immediately and would have expired March 31, 1990. It covered the network, eight NBC-owned radio stations and five NBC-owned TV stations, including KNBC-TV Channel 4 in Burbank.

The contract guaranteed pay raises of 3.68% the first year, 4.64% the second and a lump-sum payment of 3% of the current base pay on the day after the pact expires.

Major issues in the long strike included NBC's proposals that it be allowed to increase the number of employees hired by the day and that it be allowed to originate "remote" broadcasts--mainly involving news or sports--from any broadcast facility, rather than only those of NBC-affiliated stations. Union officials contended that such measures would lead to a reduction in full-time jobs for NABET members.

Midway through the strike, NBC began urging the membership to push for a contract vote, and a small number of NABET members--mainly news staff members here and in Chicago and Burbank--had been calling on their leaders to put the network's offer to a vote.

Until Oct. 11, the union's leadership had steadfastly refused to put any NBC proposals to a membership vote, saying that the offers simply were not worth the time and effort. It changed that position when NBC made certain modifications and clarifications in language, according to the union.

Even in putting NBC's offer to a rank-and-file vote last week, however, five of the six members of the union's negotiating committee urged its rejection.

The exception was Arthur Kent, president of NABET's largest branch, the 1,350-member Local 11 in New York. He said that while he thought NBC's offer was a bad one, it was the best the union could get "under the circumstances."

A majority of the union's negotiating committee, including Carrie Biggs-Adams, head of the NABET local in Burbank, later voted to censure Kent and other members of the local board, saying they had undermined union solidarity.

The union's walkout is the longest in its history with NBC. The strike began on June 29 when the company unilaterally put into effect a two-year contract that NABET negotiators previously had rejected.

About 700 management personnel and employees not represented by any union have been filling in for the strikers, working as camera operators, videotape editors and news producers and writers on both local newscasts and on such national news programs as the "Today" show and the "NBC Nightly News."

Despite some on-air glitches early in the strike, the impact of the walkout on NBC's operations was not readily apparent to the average viewer. However, Bill Cosby, star of NBC's top-rated "The Cosby Show," and syndicated talk show host Phil Donahue moved their programs from NBC facilities here to other studios to avoid crossing picket lines.

NBC said last week that when the strike ends, it will be eliminating 200 jobs previously held by NABET members. Half the cuts will stem from the $50-million sale of the NBC Radio Network; the other half are jobs that NBC no longer considers necessary. The company said that additional positions may be trimmed later this year as it continues a "down-sizing" process that has already occurred among non-union employees.

NABET last struck NBC in 1976. That walkout lasted seven weeks.

Meanwhile, federally mediated contract talks are scheduled to begin Thursday in Washington between CBS and another major technical union, the International Brotherhood of Technical Workers, which has 1,500 members at CBS.

That union's CBS contract expired Sept. 30, but its members have been told to keep working pending developments. It last struck CBS in 1972, when its walkout lasted eight week.

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