KNBC workers protest

BURBANK — A handful of KNBC workers took to the streets Thursday to mark what their union has characterized as an “unhappy anniversary” — six months since their union contract with NBC Universal expired.

The master agreement between National Assn. of Broadcast Employees and Technicians-CWA and NBC Universal expired March 31, leaving about 2,500 NBC Universal employees at the network and its television stations in Burbank, New York, Washington, D.C., and Chicago without a contract.

NABET-CWA Local 53 members were joined this week by members of the Jewish Labor Committee and Writers Guild of America. Local union officials have also filed unfair labor charges and petitions with the National Labor Relations Board.

“What we want is a fair and equitable contract,” said Louis Gabriele, NABET-CWA Local 53 Secretary. “We're looking for overtures to sit at the table.”

But NBC Universal has yet to appear ready to bargain a fair contract, he said.

Nate Kirtman, vice president of publicity for NBC Universal Television Group, said he was unable to comment, citing ongoing labor negotiations.

The demonstration came after Comcast denied a published report that it had reached a deal to acquire NBC Universal from General Electric. The Associated Press reported Thursday that Comcast is in discussions with NBC Universal to acquire a stake in the company, citing unnamed executives close to the situation.

Union officials staged a similar protest outside NBC studios in Burbank last month marking the return of Jay Leno with well wishes. Leno and “Tonight Show” host Conan O'Brien together employ about 65 NABET-CWA Local 53 members, Gabriele said.

“They're among our supporters,” he said. “And in this time, with the economy being where it is, it's be tough to get the meat and potatoes out there.”

Gabriele, who along with other members wore red, said 750 of his union peers are employed by NBC, which has continued to eliminate well-paying positions by initiating new, nonunion-represented “content producer” jobs at its stations.

NBC producers, editors, writers and other positions under the station's division were made to reapply for similar positions that offer little security, extended hours and no overtime pay, he said, adding that the media giant also wants to do away with the seniority system.

NABET-CWA Local 53 has about 750 members at NBC, less than 200 of whom are regular employees. The rest are daily workers, which Gabriele said are “hired and fired every day.”

Staff reductions at KNBC and other Burbank-based stations were not available as of press time.

NBC Universal in the last two weeks closed its station-owned commercial distribution hub in Burbank and relocated them to Crawford Communications in Georgia. NABET-CWA members say representatives of NBC Universal asked them to reapply for their old jobs but called them new, despite the fact that many had been employed in newsrooms for decades, said Brad Davies, a supervisor in the network library.

Union officials said NBC is proposing an agreement that forces out employees nearing retirement and replaces them with lower-paid workers with limited experience.

“You're basically taken out of the loop here,” Davies said.

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