CBS offices in Los Angeles.
Photo provided under Flickr/Creative Commons Sarah Ackerman.  

The IBEW’s relationship with CBS began before World War II. A new contract agreement assures the partnership remains a strong one into the next decade.

IBEW members who work as CBS technicians recently approved a new 3-year contract with the network.

The two parties jointly announced an early renewal agreement covering 3,500 technicians employed by CBS and represented by the IBEW. The current agreement is scheduled to expire on Jan. 31 of next year. The new one will be effective from Feb. 1 through April 30, 2021.

“The skilled professionals of the IBEW are proud of our partnership with CBS and this agreement reflects our joint commitment to good jobs and broadcasting excellence,” International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said in a statement about the Sept. 20 announcement.

The IBEW has represented employees at CBS since 1939, when the Associated Broadcast Technicians, which included CBS employees, voted to affiliate with it. It currently represents CBS technicians in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, San Francisco, Dallas, Miami, Atlanta and St. Louis and technicians for all events televised nationally by CBS Sports and CBS News.  

“I think it’s an extremely fair deal for both sides,” said Hollywood, Calif., Local 45 Business Manager Elaine Ocasio, who was a member of the IBEW’s negotiating committee. “They got some flexibility that they needed. We got some issues addressed that we wanted. We got another 39 months of labor peace and we can focus on producing good television.”

Neil Ambrosio, an international representative in the broadcasting department, said members covered by the contract will receive wage increases of 3 percent in all three years, with a small portion of that going to a medical fund during the first two years. That’s slightly above the average raise that broadcast technicians receive nationally, he said.

A CBS News technician.

The IBEW added 20 members at CBSN, a streaming news channel launched by CBS in 2014. The agreement also includes improvements for medical benefits and job security. Additionally, there were increased contributions to medical plans covering temporary and freelance workers.

In return, about 50 master control jobs will be eliminated by CBS, but Ocasio and Ambrosio said severance packages are part of the agreement.

Traditionally, master control rooms at television stations have been staffed by one or two individuals around the clock to ensure high broadcast quality. But due to changing technology, broadcast networks now can contract that work to one centralized location instead of staffing it on the local level. Ambrosio noted CBS was the last major broadcast group to make such a move.

 Any IBEW member covered by the agreement can apply for a buyout, Ocasio said. Master control technicians being displaced but who would rather stay on with the company instead of taking the severance can apply for another CBS position.

 “We got a very generous buyout for the people who will be taking advantage of this,” Ambrosio said.

That was especially important for Ocasio, who said about 18 Local 45 members will be affected. It has more than 600 broadcast members overall.

“Getting this over early is such a huge plus,” she said. “We don’t have to worry about what can be such a big monster in the room.”

The four business managers who were part of the IBEW’s negotiating committee with CBS were, from left, New York Local 1212’s Ralph Avigliano, Washington Local 1200’s Ken Brown, Hollywood, Calif., Local 45’s Elaine Ocasio and Chicago Local 1220’s John Rizzo.

The IBEW sent a team of about 50 people to the negotiations with CBS, which included members, international representatives and business managers. Ocasio said it helped ensure that a variety of viewpoints were represented.

“There was a lot of diversity in the room,” she said. “Diversity in where they work, including whether it was on the national level or a local station, or whether they were a freelancer. Our team was able to do a lot of the things we did because we had that.”

Ken Brown from Washington Local 1200, Ralph Avigliano from New York Local 1212 and John Rizzo of Chicago Local 1220 were the other business managers on the negotiating committee.

“In order to have successful negotiations, you need the right people in the room,” Ambrosio said. “We are fortunate to have strong business managers who know how to get members involved in the process. That’s the reason we’re able to do well.”  

Ambrosio said the IBEW’s Research Department provided needed background information and the Information Technology Department allowed the committee to quickly survey members across the country.

“It really was a team effort,” he said. “Everyone from different parts of the IBEW pitched in.”

CBS Chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves also praised the contract.

“We are very pleased to have reached this new agreement ahead of schedule,” he said. “Our new deal is indicative of the terrific working relationship and cooperation between CBS and the IBEW as well as our ongoing commitment to its highly skilled technicians.”