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Network Locks Out 2,200 Employees in Labor Dispute

Media: ABC reacts on election day after Monday's walkout by behind-the-scenes workers. Gore cancels interview at union's urging.

November 04, 1998| From Times Staff and Wire Reports

NEW YORK — About 2,200 behind-the-scenes employees at ABC, including 140 in Los Angeles, were locked out by the network on election day--one of the busiest and most technically demanding days of the year--and Vice President Al Gore canceled an interview with the network at the union's urging.

ABC said it would use management employees and replacement workers to help deliver election night returns Tuesday.

The National Assn. of Broadcast Employees and Technicians, representing 2,200 camera workers, desk assistants and publicists, staged a one-day walkout Monday to demand access to information about health coverage.

The network refused to let them go back to work Tuesday morning without a promise that ABC would be warned in advance of any future job action.

The union countered with a promise of no activity for 30 days, but ABC rejected that.

In Los Angeles, despite losing 140 news writers, producers and other personnel in the ongoing lockout, Arnold J. Kleiner, president and general manager of KABC-TV, said the station's operations were going "swimmingly" Tuesday afternoon.

"I won't say it's been a perfect job, but it's not perfect on any other day," said Kleiner. In fact, there was a tape glitch during ABC's local news coverage just before 5 p.m., resulting in the camera cutting back to the anchor. Kleiner said that in addition to training other nonunion workers to take over in the event of a strike, KABC-TV had brought in temporary workers and workers from other ABC-owned affiliates for one of the busiest news days of the year.

Kleiner said, "If I had my druthers, I'd have my employees back in here. But [those covering for them] have done a terrific job, for the first time out."

Morton Bahr, president of the association's parent, the Communications Workers union, wrote to the Democratic and Republican national organizations, asking them not to give interviews to ABC or its local stations.

"Your support is a stand in favor of fair application of our labor laws and the rights of the American working people," Bahr wrote.

Gore canceled because it is White House policy not to grant special access to news organizations when they are involved in labor disputes, spokesman Chris Lehane said. ABC correspondent Ann Compton had flown to Seattle to talk to him.

Colorado Gov. Roy Romer, head of the Democratic National Committee, backed out of an appearance on "Good Morning America," ABC News spokeswoman Eileen Murphy said. But she said she wasn't sure what reason Romer gave, and a DNC spokesman did not immediately return a call.

"We think it would be unfortunate if elected officials allow themselves to be used as tools in a private labor negotiation at the expense of informing the American public on election day or any day," Murphy said.

The union's contract with ABC expired in March 1997. Half of the affected workers are based in New York, the rest in Los Angeles, Washington, Chicago and San Francisco.

Election nights are among the most hectic, complicated nights for networks. They must juggle reams of exit polling information, watch returns from the states and declare winners. They also must make room for local affiliates to break in with their own reports.

Tom Donahue, a union spokesman, said there was no way that ABC would be able to provide the kind of election coverage it wanted.

Management and other replacement workers rehearsed early Tuesday for the complicated job of reporting election returns.

"We have been preparing for the possibility of a strike for well over a year and will have our usual excellent election coverage," ABC spokeswoman Julie Hoover said.

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