Hollywood, Calif., Local 45 member Fernando Burruss on the job for CBS-owned KCBS and KCAL during the COVID-19 pandemic. IBEW members were key in keeping CBS’ news division flowing smoothly during the pandemic.

At least one thing has remained a constant for decades in the ever-changing broadcasting industry: The IBEW’s long, productive partnership with CBS.

The committee of IBEW members that negotiated with CBS, leading to a new three-year contract. Ninth District International Representative Tim Dixon, front row with dark sport coach, and Third District International Representative Dominick Macchia, to Dixon’s immediate right, were co-lead negotiators. Broadcasting & Telecommunications Director Robert Prunn is to Dixon’s left and Broadcasting International Representative is standing behind Prunn in the blue shirt.

That relationship added another chapter on April 11, when approximately 3,500 IBEW technicians employed by the network overwhelmingly approved a new three-year national contract.

The agreement includes a 3% annual raise, increased protections for freelancers and brings in new members not covered by the previous contract. It covers members working in CBS’ news and sports divisions, as well as CBS owned and operated television stations.

“This round of negotiations had every big topic in it,” said Neil Ambrosio, an international representative in the Broadcasting Department. “Job security for freelancers, new media and streaming platforms, the impacts associated with new sports league rights deals and major technological changes relating to our jurisdictions.

“Resolving these issues through solution-based negotiations provided the IBEW and CBS with a contract everyone could agree to and, most importantly, an agreement that would be ratified by our members.”

In one the most noteworthy developments, the IBEW will represent CBS news technicians working in streaming, including at CBSN, a 24-hour news streaming channel. Like many legacy media companies, CBS is making more news content available via online streaming as opposed to traditional over-the-air programming.

Broadcasting & Telecommunications Director Robert Prunn noted previous contracts didn’t address streaming – meaning that, in a worst case scenario, IBEW members could have lost work as CBS’ business model changes.

“We had no true jurisdiction over this,” Prunn said. “Now, however they put something on the air, on whatever platforms they use, no matter what the technological advances are, we will maintain jurisdiction.”

Co-lead negotiator Tim Dixon, a Ninth District international representative, said “more and more, the public is not viewing in real time with a broadcast signal, they’re watching on their computer or phone and that delivery system is streaming.

“To capture that jurisdiction was monumental. When there’s a change in technology in your industry, you either plant a flag or you miss the boat.”

The company’s flexibility is tied to how many ENG technicians it keeps on staff. The more CBS hires, the more flexibility it enjoys. A staff reduction would mean a loss of that flexibility, which should serve as a good protection against job losses, Prunn said.

“The whole thing with CBS and any other network, with all the different platforms they now have, they want to get as much content as possible,” he said. “Content is king.”

“We believe in the job protections built in there,” added Dominick Macchia, a Third District International Representative who also served as a lead negotiator. “I think it was outstanding that we were able to do it.”

The majority of IBEW members working from CBS are freelancers – meaning they are not full-time employees but still depend on the network for much of their work, especially in sports. In the past, longtime freelancers could be dropped from traditional assignments with little or no notice, Prunn said.

Now, if a freelancer works more than 750 hours with CBS for 10 consecutive years, he or she must be given at least six months’ advance notice if their work is being reduced for reasons other than a reduction in crews. The new contract language gives freelancers advance warning so they can look for other options.

Conversely, freelancers working 750 hours for two consecutive years will receive “preference of employment” in the following year.

Also, 403(g) technicians, who are full-time employees of CBS, also have job protections not afforded in previous contracts, such as just cause in disciplinary issues and increased seniority rights.

About 50 broadcasting members advised the IBEW’s chief negotiators, Macchia and Dixon. It’s become old hat for Macchia and Dixon, who were negotiating with CBS for a fourth time.

This time, however, was different. It was the first since the merger between CBS and Viacom in 2019. CBS’ previous lead negotiator, which Dixon and others had built a relationship with over the years, retired before this round of negotiations began.

Yet, thanks to the teamwork of the committee and a decades-long, productive relationship with CBS, IBEW representatives worked through some contentious issues with the company and produced another agreement that works for both sides.

“Our bargaining committee did a masterful job dealing with very challenging issues,” International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said. “Bargaining covered everything from job security to changing technologies. These aren’t easy matters but our committee worked hard to find solutions to ensure that our members continued to enjoy job security, competitive wages and benefits, and a strong voice at work.”

The IBEW has had a relationship with CBS since 1939, when it was a radio company. It has been representing broadcast members since the advent of television in the 1950s.

The new contract is an appropriate swan song for Dixon, who is retiring in June.

“It’s just been a real honor and privilege to serve in this role,” he said. “I’ve had the privilege of being our spokesman during these last four cycles and working with 50 other people. As long as we work the issue long enough and everyone has their say, we’re always able to reach consensus on our side.”

The new agreement went into effect on April 11 and runs through April 2025.