In Depth

CBS News’ WGA Staffers Authorize Strike

CBS News employees who are members of the Writers Guild of America have authorized a strike against the network at any time.

According to a posting on the WGA East Web site, almost 300 of an estimated 500 WGA members working for CBS News’ national and local radio and TV outlets in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, D.C., voted Thursday and Friday, and 81% of them voted to authorize a strike.

Ann Toback, assistant executive director of the WGAE, told TelevisionWeek Monday that the WGA negotiating committee will meet in the next week and consider the options.

CBS News’ WGA members have been working without a raise since April 2004 and without a contract since April 2005. In November 2006, an overwhelming 91% voted against CBS News’ last contract offer.

The key issues are CBS News’ offer of a two-tier wage package, with local radio members making less than their network TV and radio counterparts, and the network’s desire to assign guild duties to non-guild staffers and to merge guild and non-guild units.

“By this powerful vote and other actions they have taken, Writers Guild members are sending their CBS bosses an irrefutable message of solidarity: We will do whatever it takes to get what we have earned and deserve,” said Michael Winship, president of the WGA East, in the announcement of the vote results.

WGA West President Patric M. Verrone said, “This vote is long-overdue proof that they are willing to do whatever is necessary to achieve it. Their fellow writers of TV, film and new media, who know first-hand what a vote like this can mean, stand behind them in their efforts.”

CBS responded with a lengthy statement meant to clarify and defend its last offer:

“It is unfortunate that our WGA news writers have voted to authorize a strike,” the statement said. “The offer we presented nearly a year ago was fair and reasonable, and remains on the table. It not only includes one of the best medical plans in the country with minimal employee contributions, but fair salary increases to all WGA employees as well. In fact, contrary to what the WGA contends, CBS proposed an annual increase of 3% for television and network radio, and 2% for the radio stations covered by this agreement.

"The lower percentage increases the WGA continues to cite are based on spreading the increases as if they were retroactive to April 2005; the offer of retroactivity expired after CBS had made numerous attempts over a long period of time to conduct and conclude negotiations.

“As to the issue of assigning current WGA responsibilities at KNX radio to non-WGA employees, here are the facts: We are simply asking that some writing duties be shared with those from another professional talent union (AFTRA) at a sister station in Los Angeles. This request seems fair given that AFTRA employees had already agreed to it, and that we are offering layoff protection to any worker at KNX affected by the change,” the statement continued.

“We hope there is no strike. Should there be, however, CBS News, CBS Television Stations and CBS Radio remain fully prepared, and ready to continue producing the highest quality news programming for our viewers.”

2 p.m. PST: Updated with CBS' statement.

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