NABET suspends talks with ABC

Calls pension cuts 'deplorable'; net studying options

Collective-bargaining talks with ABC for 2,500 TV and radio newswriters, technicians and other members of NABET-CWA were halted just days before expiration of the current contract, with the alphabet branding the action "precipitous."

The Washington-based union suspended the talks last week after a fractious session over ABC proposals on pension contributions, seniority-related issues and other matters, a well-placed source said. The parties were negotiating for a new contract for local and network employees at ABC stations in New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

"ABC did not expect NABET to like all the company proposals, just as there are many NABET proposals that ABC doesn't like," an ABC spokeswoman said. "But we did expect them to negotiate, not just walk away. That is what collective-bargaining negotiation is all about. We are shocked and saddened by this precipitous action."

NABET said the cessation in talks came "after a careful assessment of contract demands from the network that would do irreparable harm to workers' job security, pensions and other rights and benefits."

The union had been in bargaining sessions with ABC management for three weeks. Its current four-year contract with ABC expires Saturday.

"The union bargaining committee's review of ABC's proposals found nothing but company attacks on the seniority system (and) attacks on the pension plan despite the plan being financially healthy," NABET-CWA president John Clark said. "These attacks come on top of ABC's apparent refusal to consider new training and job opportunities for workers as the industry's technology rapidly evolves."

Clark claimed that ABC's proposal would reduce the average participant's retirement benefits by almost 25%.

"The pension proposal will pull the rug out from underneath people who are depending on it for their retirement security after a lifetime of service to ABC," he said. "It is deplorable."

The union said it's studying its options in the situation.

"It is unprecedented for a union at ABC to walk out at this stage of negotiations just because it does not like what has been proposed," the ABC spokeswoman said.

The situation presents ABC with a second front of newswriter labor strife. Its WGA contract covering about 250 newswriters and others in New York and Washington has been open since Jan. 31, 2005.