Duopoly dilemma: two stations, two unions

Mar 11, 2002  •  Post A Comment

While the ability to merge two TV stations’ news operations-and thus save money-has been a driving factor behind duopolies, some markets are running into a big hurdle: labor unions.
Fox Station Group duopolies in Los Angeles and New York have yet to merge their newscasts in those markets because employees at the stations have contracts with different unions.
In Los Angeles, Fox-owned and affiliated KTTV and former Chris-Craft Industries station and UPN affiliate KCOP-TV still have separate 10 p.m. newscasts in different buildings.
KTTV’s staffers are mainly National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians members, while most KCOP employees are members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. The contracts of these two unions have expired, but they are operating on extensions through the end of this month.
In New York, the Fox affiliated WNYW-TV is mainly IATSE, and Fox-owned UPN affiliate WWOR-TV is mostly NABET. The Los Angeles duopoly may end up being the template for New York in terms of what will happen with both unions, since the Los Angeles contracts expired first, sources said.
Both unions in Los Angeles want to hold their ground instead of folding into one another. There are about 60 IATSE staffers at KCOP, including sound technicians, camera operators and engineers, and 150 NABET staffers at KTTV, including daily hires on the engineering side, news writers and producers.
IATSE spokeswoman Lindajo Loftus said the union can’t comment while in negotiations. Her NABET counterpart, Keith Hendriks, VP for NABET Local 53-which handles employees at KTTV, Univison-owned KMEX-TV, KNBC-TV, Telemundo-owned duopoly KWHY-TV and KVEA-TV-said he tried to call IATSE reps in the market to discuss the future for both memberships, but they didn’t call him back.
Mr. Hendriks said though he started negotiating with Fox in December, there is no meeting scheduled until Fox finishes its meetings with IATSE. The market has been rife with rumors that KTTV will fold KCOP’s 10 p.m. newscast into the Fox station’s show, or that KCOP could do an afternoon newscast. But KCOP staffers have been told by KTTV management that the expectation will be to house everyone in one facility at KTTV, which is already a bit crowded.
“The main issue has come down to jurisdiction,” Mr. Hendriks said. “[Fox is] telling us they didn’t spend $5 billion for Chris Craft to run it inefficiently. Initially they’ve asked that we share all of our jurisdiction with anybody, with KCOP and management and interns.”
Open to negotiation
He said NABET staffers at KTTV have jurisdiction over the master control area as well as Mount Wilson, the location of KTTV’s transmitter. He said KCOP is in the process of moving its transmitter to the same site to be operated by the same employees. “We’re hoping to hang on to as many jobs as possible, because with a merger there is always some crossover duties,” Mr. Hendriks said. “They’re going to thin out the troops a little bit. We’ve got to figure something out, because a lot of people are saying this will be the template with how it’s going to be done in other markets.”
However, unions won’t be a huge problem in every market where there are now duopolies. Minneapolis, Dallas and Houston are not heavily unionized, and the stations there have met little or no resistance. CBS has seven duopolies in large markets, and none had major problems merging news operations. In the duopolies in Boston, Miami, Detroit and Philadelphia, either both stations had the same unions or had different unions but came to quick resolutions. And in Los Angeles, Viacom will not have difficulty with its acquisition of KCAL-TV because KCAL mainly has IBEW members, as does KCBS-TV.
Mr. Hendriks feels the two unions in Los Angeles should work together as much as possible in the new corporate landscape to save jobs for their members. One idea that’s been floated is to swap unions between New York and Los Angeles, having one market’s NABET become IATSE and having the IATSE in that market become NABET.
Unlike Los Angeles, the two unions in New York talk to each other. Vinnie Vero, who works at WWOR and is the president of NABET Local 209, said he is in contact with his counterpart, IATSE business agent David Hodges, who works at WNYW. WWOR and WNYW’s union contracts come up in 2003, and Mr. Vero said he expects negotiations with Fox to begin in March 2003.
In Los Angeles, Mr. Hendriks said he negotiates with Dean Ferris, executive VP of labor relations for News America, a division of News Corp. Mr. Ferris did not want to comment for this article, nor did KTTV General Manager David Boylan.
Over at KCOP, there are two IATSE locals, Nos. 695 and 600. Gary Brainard, who has been at that station since the 1970s, is the shop steward for Local 600.
“The bottom line is we’re ready to sit down and discuss whatever proposals they want to present us with,” Mr. Brainard said. “We’re forward-looking because we haven’t said, `No we’re not going to talk about this or that.’ We have not been told any ideas on how Fox wants to integrate the Chris Craft family into the Fox family.”