TV news production staff at WBAL votes for union

October 08, 1992|By Kim Clark | Kim Clark,Staff Writer

For the first time at a Baltimore television station, the writers, producers and assignment editors at WBAL-TV have voted to join a union.

For years, most of the anchor people, reporters and camera operators who work on Baltimore television news shows have belonged to unions such as the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

But last week's vote by 18 behind-the-scenes production assistants and other workers at the station marked the first unionization of the folks who write and organize a news show in Baltimore, said a spokesman for the Writers Guild of America, East, the union that will represent the WBAL workers.

Martin G. Waldman, spokesman for the New York-based union, said the union campaign started in August, and that 72 percent, or 13, of the 18 employees voted for the union in an election Friday.

The company and the union will now negotiate a contract for the newly represented employees, Mr. Waldman said.

WBAL, which is a CBS affiliate, is owned by the Hearst Corp.

David Roberts, news director for Channel 11-WBAL, declined to comment on the issues surrounding the union vote.

"Our No. 1 priority is to produce the most aggressive quality-oriented news programming we can produce, whether there is a collective bargaining process or not," he said.

George Norloff, a producer for the news show, said the unionization drive started before Mr. Roberts took over as news director in August, and that some employees opposed the drive because "the guy needed a chance."

Mr. Norloff said the campaign hadn't created any divisions within the newsroom.

Another worker, who asked not to be identified, said the WBAL employees overwhelmingly approved the union because they feel they are underpaid and overworked.

A previous news director laid off several employees, which has meant that remaining workers sometimes have to work 70 hours a week without overtime, the employee charged.

The union vote is just the latest wrinkle in the recent turbulent history of WBAL's television news unit.

In the last year and a half, the station has severely cut back its weekday newscasts while adding weekend news shows.

And there have been several notable staff changes in recent months.

Mr. Roberts took over the news shows from Tom Hauff, who had been at WBAL for about 18 months.

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