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Broadcast Members Win Contract, With a Little Help From Their Friends

December 5, 2003

Months of national coordination involving periodic conference calls, high-profile marches and pressure from every major Democratic presidential candidate are rarely summoned during first-contract negotiations for a 13-member unit.

But when the new members happen to work at a television station hosting a Democratic debate next week in what is arguably the most important presidential primary state in the country, what might be a little-noticed dispute becomes high stakes.

Only in New Hampshire.

The powerful combination of media exposure, big advertising dollars and the state of New Hampshire in the midst of presidential nominating season have brought these Local 1228 members some heavy duty helpjust in time for the next debate.

Now the December 9 dust-up, sponsored in part by employer WMUR, can go off without a boycott or pickets, thanks to the ratification of their first contract six days earlier.

"Weve certainly gotten people from all over the place involved, no question about that," said IBEW Local 1228, Boston, Business Manager Kenneth Flanagan. "This station plays an important role in the state of New Hampshire and the history of the nation."

The three-year contract ratified on December 3 includes significant improvements to wage rates that will gain workers increases between 5.6 percent and 34 percent, depending on years of service, Flanagan said. It institutes a seniority system for work shift selections for the employees who shoot and edit videotape news and the news magazine "Chronicle New Hampshire" for the ABC affiliate in Manchester. The agreement also gives workers short-term disability coverage, Flanagan said.

"The biggest problem was the money," Flanagan said, adding that the company had been paying the most senior bargaining unit member $800 per week, a salary wildly out of whack when compared to other 1228 members at a Boston station. One member who couldnt afford to live on his wages at WMUR was forced to move in with his in-laws an hour and a half away, in Vermont, to make ends meet. This is from a station with the highest political advertising revenues in the county.

The local had been attempting to negotiate a contract since last January, when the IBEW won a representation election at Hearst-Argyle-owned WMUR.

WMUR, which bills itself as the largest commercial channel in New Hampshire, resisted until recent pressure from the national AFL-CIO and the Democratic presidential candidates forced them to reconsider, Flanagan said. The New Hampshire AFL-CIO organized a march to City Hall and a panel on the rights of workers to organize. Former Vermont Governor Howard Dean met with Flanagan and he, along with the rest of the candidates, sent a letter to the stations general manager, urging settlement.

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