WIVB returns to bargaining

Negotiations between anchors and reporters represented by the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, AFL-CIO (AFTRA) and the owners of WIVB-TV, LIN Media, resumed this week after 10 months. The two sides will meet again on October 25 and 26.

Members who attended the two days of bargaining expressed concern that the company is refusing to compromise on any of the contentious issues that led to a breakdown of negotiations almost a year ago.

According to WIVB-TV anchor and president of AFTRA’s Buffalo Local Mylous Hairston, “The company representatives at the table made clear that their top priority in these negotiations is to continue to cut their costs by increasing our workload without providing necessary safeguards, by raising our health insurance premiums, and by refusing to contribute to our retirement savings accounts. Their positions are unacceptable to the membership and we will stand together until we get a fair contract.”

LIN Media’s top executives received substantial bonuses in 2009 and have negotiated generous pay increases for 2010. According to Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings released in late July, CEO Vincent Sadusky received a 30% increase in salary, from $500,000 in 2009 to $650,000 in 2010. In addition, top executives received over $500,000 in bonuses in 2009, and are slated to get as much as $3 million in bonuses in 2010, depending on company performance.

Congressman Brian Higgins, a strong supporter of WIVB-TV anchors and reporters, voiced concern about the process, adding, “Residents in Western New York rely on WIVB-TV to stay informed on the critical issues of the day. Now more than ever we need to make sure there is a fair approach in negotiations to ensure the quality journalism residents have come to expect from channel 4 continues at the station.”

In 2009, the company appointed John Jaske as its lead negotiator, a move that suggests a fair approach may be in jeopardy. Jaske, former head of Labor Relations for Gannett Company – the country’s largest newspaper distributor – is well-known in the media industry as the lead negotiator during contentious contract talks at the Detroit Free Press that culminated in a two-years long strike in the mid-1990s.

Mylous Hairston said, “We, the members of AFTRA at WIVB, are concerned about the signal the company is sending by hiring Mr. Jaske to represent them in these negotiations. We have heard about the divisive role he has played in negotiations with union members in other companies.”

The last collective bargaining agreement between WIVB-TV management and the anchors and reporters expired in September 2008. After more than a year of bargaining, management claimed in December 2009 that negotiations with the union had reached impasse and imposed the terms of their last offer, which were never ratified by union members.

The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, AFL-CIO, are the people who entertain and inform America. In 32 Locals across the country, AFTRA members work as actors, broadcasters, singers, dancers, announcers, hosts, comedians, disc jockeys and other performers across the media industries including television, radio, cable, sound recordings, music videos, commercials, audio books, non-broadcast industrials, interactive games, the Internet and other digital media. The 70,000 professional performers, broadcasters and recording artists of AFTRA are working together to protect and improve their jobs, lives and communities in the 21st century. From new art forms to new technology, AFTRA members embrace change in their work and craft to enhance American culture and society. Visit AFTRA online at www.aftra.com.