NBC welcomed members of the National Assn. of Broadcast Engineers and Technicians back to work Monday with a series of meetings designed to help patch up any ill feelings that might have developed as a result of the union's 17-week strike.
At the same time, the network held firm in its intention to eliminate 200 positions formerly held by the 2,800 union members who struck NBC across the country June 29.
"Our major concern is to make them feel welcome--to welcome them back into the family," Jay Rodriguez, NBC's vice president for corporate information, said of the meetings that were held in Burbank and at other NBC sites Monday. "It was a long strike, there was a lot of rhetoric between the company and the union and it may take some time to get around all the bitterness. But it's time to start the healing process."
Chuck Klein, a field maintenance engineer with NBC Sports, said the mood at these meetings--for which the union members were paid--was rather quiet and that many union members were wondering why they simply couldn't return to work immediately. In Burbank, only the network's news employees were actually back on the job Monday. The bulk of the union will return to work today.
Klein said that NBC was sincere in its efforts to avoid problems that might arise because of the hostility that has been generated between the company and the union, but he said he was adopting a "wait-and-see attitude."
"I anticipate some bitterness and some problems with some of the changes that will happen," Klein said. "It's not the same NBC that it was when we went out on strike."
NBC had announced before the strike ended that it would be eliminating 200 union jobs--half because of its sale of the NBC Radio network. How many of the remaining 100 jobs will entail layoffs was not clear Monday.
NBC officials said they first had to see how many of the strikers actually return to work. Some found other jobs during the walkout, and some others may have opted to retire.
Klein seemed most concerned about NBC's attempt to "buy out" the jobs of 28 people in the union as part of the job trimming, and about what he said was NBC's "vindictive" plan to punish several union members for their behavior during the strike.
Rodriguez confirmed that NBC plans to reprimand, suspend or discharge six to eight union members whom he said violated the law during the strike. He said they "threatened violence against another person, threw a brick at a car and attempted sabotage of company property."
The feeling in the KNBC Channel 4 newsroom, however, seemed to be much more optimistic. KNBC General Manager John Rohrbeck invited his union employees back into the newsroom Monday for a pep talk and a lecture on the new economic realities of television news.
"It was funny to see the people that replaced us doing our jobs today," said Kevin La Beach, a sports producer at KNBC. "But I'm willing to let bygones be bygones. It's good to see that management missed us as much as we missed our jobs, and it just feels great to be back at my desk."
Some news cameramen were reassigned to jobs outside the news department. Dick Smith, a newswriter at KNBC and the vice president of NABET Local 53 in Burbank, said that many of them were terribly upset at being transferred.
"I'm afraid that some of them who have developed skills over the years in news will now feel like fish out of water, and they may very well find a new job," Smith said. "I'm not so sure that isn't the intention so that (NBC) will have less people to actually lay off."
Smith said that some of these people might harbor ill feelings against NBC and that for some union employees, dealing with the people who replaced them on the job during the strike may be difficult. But he said he hoped everyone would behave in a rational manner.
"It's going to be awkward for a while, but I don't think people will be bitter for long," Smith said, "Most people would like nothing better than to put it behind them and get on with their jobs."
Smith also said that he did not believe that NBC's hard-line position at the negotiating table during the strike would create much friction between the company and its returning employees.
"We don't hold much animosity against NBC," Smith said. "It was General Electric that was clamping down on any attempts to do any serious bargaining with the union. NBC is not our enemy. It's G.E. We hope the NBC that we left four months ago is still going to conduct business as usual."
NBC spokesman Rodriguez said that it would. "I can assure you that all the department heads who ran NBC before the strike continue to run NBC," he said. "There have been no directives at all from G.E. on what to do or how to spend the money. Management-employee relations will be the same as they were before."