ABC News, WGAE Battle over BlackBerrys

Dispute Over After-Hours Work Leaves Guild Members at ABC Empty-Handed

ABC News and the Writers Guild of America East may have resolved their contract dispute late last year, but a new squabble left guild members at the news division feeling painfully empty-handed.

A couple of weeks ago, ABC News writers were forced to surrender their BlackBerry hand-held devices when the network clashed with the guild over after-hours work.

According to people familiar with the situation, ABC asked writers and producers to sign a waiver acknowledging that they may use their BlackBerrys to monitor and compose work-related e-mail after normal working hours.

When the WGAE advised its members not to sign, the network took the BlackBerrys away.

As a result, writers for shows such as Good Morning America and World News with Charles Gibson had to go without what many white-collar workers view as an indispensible part of their daily lives.

"In a culture that has gone completely BlackBerry," one ABC News producer said, "it's absurd."

Indeed, ABC examined BlackBerry bereavement in a 2007 report on a brief service outage, noting that for those who "use a BlackBerry daily for business -- think investment bankers, lawyers and, yes, journalists -- the outage was devastating."

But at press time, hope was at hand that the hand-helds would soon return. An ABC News executive said the issue is "very close to being worked out."