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KVEA-TV May Face Boycott

Broadcasting: Activists say the Spanish-language network is union busting. The Glendale station denies such contentions.

September 04, 1997|JULIA SCHEERES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Latino and labor activists are threatening a boycott of KVEA-TV, the local flagship of the nation's second-largest Spanish-language broadcast network, over a disputed union vote by the station's production and newsroom employees.

The Glendale-based station, which reaches 1.3 million Spanish-speaking homes in Southern California, is the only major nonunion television station in Los Angeles. KVEA has 120 full-time employees and 35 to 50 freelancers.

In two elections--the first held in April 1996--KVEA workers chose the National Assn. of Broadcast Employees and Technicians to represent them. Both times, the station challenged the vote and accused the union of intimidating employees.

Meanwhile, the National Labor Relations Board, which supervised and certified the vote, cited KVEA for not allowing workers to wear union insignia or post union literature at the station.

KVEA and the NLRB are locked in a protracted battle of orders and appeals, with the board ordering the station to bargain with NABET while the station protests alleged improprieties in the election campaigns.

"It's not that we oppose the results [of the vote]. There were some irregularities that we thought needed to be addressed," said Eduardo Dominguez, station manager.

He said that on several occasions, pro-union workers had physically intimidated anti-union workers. He declined to elaborate on the nature of the threats.

The station has hired the San Francisco legal firm of Littler, Mendelson, which specializes in labor and employment issues and represents 50 of the Fortune 100 companies.

The KVEA-NABET case is now scheduled to go to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. It could take a year or more before the court issues a decision, said Sidney Rosen, an NLRB spokesman.

Since being founded 12 years ago, KVEA has never been unionized. The station's chief competitor, KMEX--owned by Univision, the nation's No. 1 Spanish-language network--has been a NABET workplace for more than 30 years, according to Lourdes Garcia, a NABET attorney.

"Let's face it. It's just hard-core union-busting," Garcia said.

A year and a half after union elections, the work environment at KVEA has grown tense, and workers feel they can't talk freely about the situation, said Rafael Nieto, 43, a KVEA cameraman for 11 years.

"All we want is for them to recognize the union and negotiate a contract in good faith," Nieto said.

Meanwhile, activists, who have scheduled the boycott for November, accuse the Latino-owned station of exploiting other Latinos.

"It's ironic that KVEA covered Latino worker strikes so thoroughly yet, at the same time, they're shafting workers behind the camera," said Jose de Paz, who heads the Coalicion Pro-Justicia en KVEA-52, a coalition of labor, Latino and community activists protesting KVEA's refusal to bargain with NABET.

The group also accused KVEA of firing on-air reporters who were members of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists union.

AFTRA elections held at the station in March 1996 ended in a tie vote. Over the next year, the employment contracts of six pro-AFTRA newsroom workers were not renewed, according to AFTRA spokeswoman Leslie Simon.

"I was the only union reporter left," said Ana Cecilia Granados, who covered Central America for the station until she was fired last month. Granados was a vocal supporter of NABET and attended protest rallies organized by the union in front of the station--angering station management, she said.

"It's very sad because we're all Hispanics, but the way they treat the workers is disgusting," she said.

Dominguez, the station manager, denied that the reporters were fired for being pro-labor.

"It had nothing to do with the fact they belonged to AFTRA," he said.

The layoffs were part of a comprehensive overhaul of the entire department designed to make the station's newscasts more competitive, he said.

The boycott is scheduled to be launched during the November television sweeps to inflict maximum damage on KVEA's parent company, Telemundo, organizers said. Nevertheless, it's not clear what effect the action might have on the network, which operates stations and affiliates in 59 U.S. markets and Puerto Rico.

"It's an important station for them," said Paul Sweeny, a media analyst with Salomon Bros. in New York. "Their [profit] has been declining for the past two quarters, and their ratings have been weak."

To garner support for the boycott, Coalicion Pro-Justicia has taken out full-page ads in the Spanish-language newspaper La Opinion and is canvassing working-class and Latino neighborhoods citywide to join the group's cause.

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