Fresh off a clean sweep in the July ratings book, KNBC Channel 4's news department will eliminate at least nine union jobs before the end of the year, according to a local representative of the National Assn. of Broadcast Employees and Technicians (NABET). Additional layoffs of non-NABET newsroom personnel are also expected at the NBC-owned station.
Richard Smith, president of NABET Local 53, said he was informed this week that 9 or 10 NABET news writers, editors, field crews and couriers would not have their jobs at year's end and that some of the layoffs will take effect as early as next month. He said that cuts in non-union jobs would be even deeper.
A KNBC spokeswoman confirmed that there will be "some layoffs, mostly through attrition and voluntary layoffs" as part of the station's "ongoing staff analysis to provide maximum efficiency." She declined to specify how many or what kinds of positions will be eliminated or whether the cuts would be limited to the 9 or 10 NABET positions. She said that the layoffs would not affect KNBC's "on-air product."
Smith said that the cuts were implemented after NBC conducted a survey at its Denver affiliate, which broadcasts four hours of news a day with a much smaller staff than the one at KNBC. Denver is the 19th-largest television market in the country with about 20% of the total number of viewing households of the Los Angeles area.
"They decided that if Denver could put on a newscast with a certain number of people, then they saw no reason why Los Angeles couldn't do it with the same number of people," Smith said. "But it's like comparing apples and oranges. You can't compare the markets, you can't compare the sales revenue, you can't compare the product. This is a network-owned station, covering a huge area and doing it very well. This is our reward for finishing No. 1 in the nation's No. 2 market."
Though the station has yet to make any official announcement, KNBC has been contemplating the addition of a 9 a.m. newscast to its current schedule of four hours of weekday news. Smith suggested that the cutbacks would have even been larger were the station not planning the additional show.
Smith said he would attempt to work out details of the layoffs in the coming week. He hopes that most of those leaving would volunteer to be part of a buyout offer that in the past, he said, has paid a 20-year veteran about one year's salary as incentive. If there are not enough volunteers for such a program, the least senior members in each eliminated position would be forcibly laid off, he said.
Meanwhile, in an action that a network spokeswoman said was unrelated to the cuts at KNBC, NBC on Wednesday unilaterally implemented the terms of an unratified four-year contract with NABET. The union leaders responded by filing an unfair labor practices charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in New York. Union members have been working without a contract since March 31.
The NABET membership at the NBC-owned-and-operated stations in New York, Los Angeles/Burbank, Washington, Chicago and Cleveland--including 2,373 news writers, engineers and technicians--had rejected the proposed contract. The network said it decided to implement the contract since negotiations had reached an impasse. NABET officials claimed that negotiations have not reached an impasse and that the union is willing to bargain in good faith.
Smith said the complaint filed with the NLRB was the first of several legal measures the union will take in an effort to force NBC back to the bargaining table.
In 1987, NBC also declared an impasse in negotiations with the union and implemented its final offer. At that time, the NLRB rejected a similar union complaint and the union eventually went on strike for 17 weeks.