WGA votes down 'last' CBS offer

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In an overwhelming rejection of an offer CBS had said would be its last, 99% of WGA newswriters and others voting in four major markets rejected the eye's four-year contract offer.

The guild had suggested members nix the proposal, which offered a 12% wage increase over the next 45 months for TV and network radio employees and 8% for those in local radio. Some 500 WGA members have been without a CBS contract since the last one expired 20 months ago, but terms would have been retroactive only to September.

"The membership has spoken, rejected CBS' final package and told CBS what we've been telling them for the past 20 months we've been negotiating -- that this offer is unacceptable," WGA East executive director Mona Mangan said. "With their vote, our members have rejected CBS' call for wage increases far below the cost of living and industry standard, a two-tier work force that is particularly punitive to local radio employees and reduced job security, all of which were cornerstones of this rejected CBS proposal."

About 280 CBS employees voted on the proposal, with only three voting for approval of the pact, a guild spokeswoman said. Those affected include newswriters, editors, desk assistants, production assistants, graphic artists, promotion writers and researchers in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Washington.

"It's time for CBS finally to listen to its employees and our members," WGA West executive director David Young said. "It's time for CBS to come back to the bargaining table, negotiate in good faith and offer our members a respectful, fair contract that compensates them for their hard work and continued contribution to CBS."

There was no indication whether CBS would schedule another bargaining session, nor if it might sweeten terms of the last offer.

"It is unfortunate that the WGA decided to campaign so strongly against this deal, which both sides spent 19 months to bargain and work towards," CBS senior vp industry relations Harry Isaacs said. "We regret that they have rejected what we believe is a fair and reasonable offer that served the interests of both sides."

Separately Wednesday, WGA East negotiators met with representatives of ABC in another bargaining session aimed an nailing down a new contract for about 250 alphabet employees in New York and Washington. The previous contract for those newswriters and others expired Jan. 31, 2005.

"The WGAE presented ABC with a revised set of proposals, which offered movement on a number of key items from the guild's last comprehensive package and responded to a number of ABC proposals (and) as addressed issues that have arisen since negotiations started 23 sessions ago," WGAE spokeswoman Sherry Goldman said. "Unfortunately, ABC's only response was that they stand firm on demanding the WGAE accept its previously submitted offer in its entirety."

The most recently disclosed ABC proposal to WGA employees called for a pay boost totaling 10.25% over the next three years.

CBS' Isaacs, in a memo circulated to senior managers Wednesday, called the WGA's rejection of the eye's latest contract proposal as unsurprising and referenced the alphabet negotiations.

"Given the reports we received from some employees about the guild's heavy pressure campaign to vote against the package, the result is not surprising," Isaacs said. " In negotiations with ABC, the WGA recently rejected ABC's final offer, and subsequently requested further meetings. We anticipate they will do the same here. I will keep you advised of any further actions."
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