Union ratifies WNYT contract

The union that urged Capital Region residents to “Turn off Channel 13” is singing a different tune,

The union that urged Capital Region residents to “Turn off Channel 13” is singing a different tune, with its six-month contract standoff reaching a conclusion.

Members of the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technical-Communications Workers of America Local 21 ratified a four-year pact Wednesday night. The deal ends the bitter battle WNYT/Chnnel 13’s organized news, engineering and production workers waged against the Menands station and its Minnesota parent, Hubbard Broadcasting.

“We gave a little and the union gave a little, and we ended up with a compromise we could both live with,” WNYT General Manager Steve Baboulis said.

NABET-CWA emerged from the dispute with promises of annual raises. But more importantly, it got management to back away from its demand to lay off anyone in the bargaining unit, regardless of seniority.

In return, NABET-CWA granted management more leniency in allowing managers and other workers to temporarily fill in for unionized work. Baboulis said it was important for the station to obtain more flexibility in handling daily operations, especially at a time when television news stations are struggling to keep their edge with smaller staffs.

Although NABET-CWA President Bill Lambdin said he does not foresee any layoffs at WNYT during the current contract’s lifetime, other stations have taken an axe to newsrooms. WTEN/Channel 10 in Albany last week cut 10 jobs. The New York Times reported Wednesday that CBS News has started laying off 1,200 employees at stations in New York, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago and elsewhere.

“We didn’t get everything we wanted. We were able to get the demands we found totally unacceptable withdrawn,” said Lambdin.

After NABET-CWA’s contract expired Sept. 30, the union launched a “Turn off Channel 13” public awareness campaign. The campaign was similar to the tactic the union representing WRGB/Channel 6 workers employed against management at that Niskayuna station in 2006.

NABET-CWA’s campaign pressured business to stop advertising on WNYT and even some New York politicians refused to work with station news crews and advertisers. They included Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, former Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Sen. Neil Breslin, D-Albany, said Lambdin.

“This would not have occurred without the widespread support of the community,” Lambdin said.

The deadlock broke last Friday when Lambdin and Baboulis met in Minnesota with their legal counsels. Prior to that meeting, union and management last held negotiations on Nov. 19.

They had initially scheduled three days of negotiation in Menands last week, but those plans got canceled when WNYT’s attorney hurt his shoulder, Lambdin said.

With the WNYT attorney unable to travel, Lambdin and Baboulis went to Minnesota. That trip for only one day of negotiations set the tone for the meeting, with “the dynamic right from the start,” Baboulis said.

“As bad as I feel for my negotiator, sometimes things happen for a reason, as bad as they might be,” Baboulis said.

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