ABC, WGAE forge tentative agreement

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ABC News employees will vote Dec. 13 whether to ratify a tentative contract reached Thursday between the network and the Writers Guild of America East.

The 250 ABC News writers, producers, editors, graphic artists and desk assistants covered under the contract in New York and Washington, D.C., have been working without a contract since Jan. 31, 2005.

The new contract, which is expected to be ratified, will run through Feb. 1, 2010. It calls for a 3.5% annual raise effective immediately as well as a $3,700 bonus for each full-time employee (and prorated for others) not retroactively but instead with the WGA's agreement to drop a pending National Labor Relations Board complaint.

ABC News is still talking to technical employees and the NABET union, and the WGAE is in the midst of a strike against the studios and networks and nearing a decision on whether to strike CBS News. But the decision by ABC News to drop a key provision in a new offer was just the thing to break the logjam.

The provision that troubled the union had to do with ABC News' attempts to move a dozen or so employees of the TV network and WABC-TV from in the union as writer-producers to management.

"Those were jobs that had been in the Writers Guild since the 1960s," said WGAE executive director Mona Mangan. "We said, 'No, you can't take people out of the bargaining unit.' "

The new contract also changes some of the workday rules for network radio employees, as well as a lower differential for night-shift work and an increase in fees for assistants who act as editors as part of their duties.

"We're pleased after three long years of negotiations to be able to make a deal," said Jeff Ruthizer, senior vp labor relations at ABC. "We value our WGA-represented employees, and we look forward to a positive ratification vote that will allow both sides to put this behind them."

The WGAE is considering whether to call a strike against CBS after working for more than two years without a contract for its writers, editors and desk assistants. The union voted two weeks ago to approve a strike, although one has not been called.

ABC on Wednesday resumed negotiations with another union, the NABET-CWA, for an expired contract covering technical employees and publicists.

Mangan said she hoped the ABC News agreement would encourage CBS News to come back to the bargaining table.
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