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ABC Adds Pay Boost in Latest Offer

ABC and the WGA East ended contract talks Friday, Oct. 20, with no date for new talks but with ABC's reiteration that Oct. 31 was the date for WGA E to accept or reject its "last, best offer."

The ABC final offer was first made in an Oct. 4 meeting, the first talks since June 29.

Earlier this week, ABC sent a letter to its WGAE-represented news employees in New York and Washington outlining its position and arguing that WGAE was stalling the negotiations. The union countered that it was troubled by a letter it saw as an attempt to intimidate members.

The network and the union, which represents various news staffers, have been in protracted contract negotiations for a couple of years now. The key sticking points have been ABC's desire to take news writers/producers out of the union, primarily at WABC TV, and the issue of whether pay hikes should be retroactive to when the contract expired.

ABC has said the writer/producers issue is nonnegotiable, pointing out that those staffers at its other, NABET-represented, stations aren't in the union, nor are those at its NBC-owned rival, WNBC TV New York. The network also says it will not make the raises retroactive to the April 2, 2005, termination of the previous contract.

According to a source close to the negotiations, WGAE came to the table with a response to ABC's offer that included not asking for the retroactive pay, but putting pay bumps in the first and last years of the contract that would have essentially done the same thing, said the source.

To maintain credibility, the network does not want to make too many adjustments to what has been billed as a "last" offer, but it found some wiggle room on the pay issue, reportedly countering with a 3% bump in the last year that would bring the raise to 12.5% over the next 39 months. But that stays on the table only until Oct. 31 as an incentive to ratify the offer.

According to a statement released late Friday by WGAE, the union said that in its counterproposal it withdrew more than a dozen demands and revised others.

Those included withdrawing the demand for reimbursement for transportation costs for staff on overnight shifts, which they say is a safety issue. The two sides agreed to form a committee to address overall safety issues, said the union.

WGAE also said it gave some on the writer/producer issue by offering ABC "greater flexibility" in managing those employees, and added changes it says address ABC's concerns over scheduling flexibility for ABC Radio.

It confirmed that ABC rejected the revised proposal saying the producers had to be removed from the union "and its protection," WGAE added.

The union said it plans to request additional dates for talks, but the nonwiggle room clearly remains on the writer/producer issue.

ABC remains dedicated to removing the writer-producers from the union, saying it must do so to compete in the real world, while WGA East is not giving on the issue, saying removing them jeopardizes editorial independence.