In one of the longest contract negotiations ever, IATSE and Fox TV stations in New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., have been unable to reach a new agreement after more than 10 years of on-again/off-again bargaining. “Our members have not had a raise since 2006,” said Nick Kroudis, business agent of IATSE Local 794, which represents about 100 members employed at WNYW-TV in New York City.
“Negotiations for a successor agreement have been ongoing for over a decade now, beginning in September 2011,” IATSE said in an update to its members. “So far, the give-and-take required for productive negotiations has not been proportionate, and the company has refused to move off their demands to create a more disposable workforce. In this, the company is turning its back on 75 years of stable labor conditions and a productive labor-management relationship.”
A Fox Television Stations spokesperson told Deadline, “We’re currently in private discussions with IATSE and have always negotiated in good faith and will continue to do so.”
The decade-long negotiations involve two IATSE locals – Local 794 in New York and Local 819 in D.C. – and four Fox TV stations: WNYW; WTTG and WDCA in D.C.; and WWOR in New Jersey. The locals represent the stations’ behind-the-scenes news crews, including studio camera operators, photographers, news editors, technical directors, broadcast maintenance engineers and satellite operations engineers.
The standoff reached a boiling point this week when representatives of the union and the stations got into a “heated exchange” over the deal the stations offered on November 16, which includes a 7% pay raise in the first year and 2% pay hikes in each of the second and third years of its proposed contract.
“While the Company’s proposals contained top-line wage and retirement benefit increases,” IATSE says, “workers are concerned these are merely a ‘sugar high,’ intentionally distracting from provisions which would enable the Company to erode the Union’s long-term bargaining status and treat unionized broadcast workers as disposable. These provisions include:
• Offloading subjects of collective bargaining onto Company Handbooks and policies which can change at any time and depriving the Union of its lawful right to bargain over these policies
• Allowing management to replace union broadcast workers by permitting inexperienced, non-union workers to operate, repair, and/or maintain broadcast and technical equipment.
• Allowing the Company to kick workers to the curb in times of crisis (e.g., the Covid-19 pandemic) with overly permissive Force Majeure language basically letting the Company off-the-hook with respect to its contractual obligations
• Reducing vacation time while at the same time scheduling excessive overtime at the Company’s discretion
• Dividing workers into complicated new seniority lists to make it easier to lay off long term employees
“Following the presentation of these concerns in a heated exchange, the company continued to repeatedly claim that the 11/16 Package Proposal is fair and generous with respect to enhancements to bargaining unit employees’ terms and conditions of employment.”
The stations have reached numerous agreements with other unions in recent years, and paid their IATSE members’ medical premiums throughout 2021, but Local 794 says on its website that “We all know that they are not union friendly at all and would love to see all unions disappear…They would get rid of all of us in a heartbeat given the chance.”
In a July letter to Lew Leone, general manager of WNYW, Local 794 business agent Kroudis wrote:
“We have been without a cost-of-living increase and fair wages for 15 years. 15 years. Something no one at this station has had to endure. This group of dedicated employees was asked in 2008 to help the Station during the economic downturn and give back, among other financial concessions, 5% of its wages. These Employees were asked to step up in a big way, something no other employees were asked, and they complied. And we did this with the assurance that when the company came out of that economic crisis and was financially healthy again, that this group of employees would be made whole again. Sadly, that has not happened. Not even close.
“We know full well that wages are a subject of bargaining. However, this goes beyond bargaining. This is about decency, recognition, and the fair treatment of your employees. No one, regardless of how difficult and drawn-out negotiations have been, should have to endure this. It is cruel and frankly demeaning and insulting.
“What have we done wrong? What harm have we caused this Station? Are we less worthy employees than everyone else? We have done nothing less than report to work every day and carry out our jobs to the highest technical levels possible. And we continue to make sure WNYW/WWOR is the best Station in the New York market.
“We are simply asking for fairness for a group that has performed and met every challenge and need presented by the company. We have adapted to all the new technology that the station felt would make it more competitive. We have delivered quality work during all of your major social, political and high-profile sporting events. This station has not had to miss one day of broadcasting during this entire Covid pandemic. Our dedication to give you quality work during these unprecedented times, is exceptional, when you realize that our safety is threatened not just by the virus, but by those who now view the media as the enemy.”
IATSE, meanwhile, said that its bargaining committee “will continue in its resolve to win the best possible contract for the broadcast workers of Locals 794 and 819, and will continue to utilize the tactics necessary to get there.”
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