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WGA STRIKE COVERAGE: ABC, News Writers Reach Contract Agreement

News writers and ABC reached a tentative agreement on a new contract after almost three years, according to the Writers Guild of America East.

The contract covers news writers, editors, desk assistants, production assistants, graphic artists and researchers, who had been working without a contract since January 2005.

According to the guild, they will get 3.5% annual raises and a $3,700 "contract bonus" for all full-time employees and a pro-rated bonus for per-diem workers if the contract is ratified by the rank and file. It will take effect immediately after it is ratified and extend through Feb. 1. 2010. It will be put to a vote by union members Dec. 13 at meetings in New York and Washington, D.C.

Rather than a signing bonus or retroactive compensation, that $3,700, ABC spokeswoman Julie Hoover said, is a "one-time payment to individuals in specifc consideration of the parties' settlement of NLRB [National Labor Relations Board] charges currently pending." The union had complained to the NLRB, but the complaint had not been resolved.

“We’re pleased to secure, finally, a fair contract for our members,” WGAE executive director Mona Mangan said. “We expect the membership to ratify this contract."

The key sticking point, WGAE said, had been the removal of writer/producers from the union and WABC in New York. When ABC took that off the table, a union source said, everything fell into place.

"We're pleased after three long years of negotiation to be able to make a deal that both parties can live with," said the network's chief negotiator, senior vice president of labor relations Jeff Ruthizer. "We value our WGA representive employees and look forward to a positive ratification vote that will allow both sides to put this behind them."

According to WGAE, the contract will "lower night-shift differential by one hour in the second year of the contract, increase acting-editor fees and establish a new fee for production assistants, diminish payment for a missed lunch period in network radio and decrease payment for ops-room work in network radio while grandfathering current employees."

In other ABC union news, the network is back at the bargaining table with NABET/CWA over a contract with tehchnical workers that expired March 31. ABC was preparing a comment at press time.

The WGA and similar CBS News employees have been in similar contentious negotiations for almost as long -- since April 2005 -- but the prospects don't look particulary bright, with the guild recently getting strike authorization, although it has not said when and whether it will use it.

For full coverage of the strike, click here.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.