Fast break in Fresno

New contract ends 43-day NABET hunger strike

The labor discord at KFTV(TV) Fresno, Calif., was filled with charges of stalking and stalling, of management's sneaking away from confrontation, and of workers'sneaking food. A witch was even called in to try to heal the rift. The story had everything, apparently, but the kitchen sink. And when the 43-day hunger strike at KFTV(TV) ended on the last day in March, there was only one way to celebrate.

For the last three of the original 14 hunger strikers, the transition to normal eating will take days, possibly weeks, and they were able to take only soup and small amounts of more solid food. But their National Association of Broadcast Engineers and Technicians brothers and sisters joined them inside a motor home outside the station, celebrating what they said was a victory for the union and a vindication of fasting as a negotiating technique.

Workers at the Spanish-language station were quick to point out that the agreement came on what would have been the 73rd birthday of legendary United Farm Workers leader Cesar Chavez. The union had cited Chavez as inspiration for its own battle with Spanish-language broadcasting giant Univision Television. His son, also a UFW leader, backed NABET during the dispute. The birthday, the union said, had more to do with the timing of the ratification than the complaint Univision had made against the union at the National Labor Relations Board and the lawsuit it had filed in court earlier in the week.

Kftv General manager Maria Gutierrez, who had been largely silent during the hunger strike, said following the ratification, "I am very happy that we have reached this agreement with the union, which will benefit the entire Fresno community. With this now behind us, we can focus all of our energies on working together to build an even stronger organization that serves the needs of the region's dynamic Latino population."

According to the union, salary boosts were significant, with some in the 20% to 40% range, although compensation will still be lower than at the area's English-speaking stations. The union also claimed victory on lunch breaks and the opportunity to represent free-lancers who regularly work at the station. Reporter Reina Cardenas, one of the hunger strikers who had been outspoken during the dispute, will remain an "at-will" employee but will be protected from reprisal by a six-month "cooling off" period. Union negotiator Carrie Biggs-Adams added, however, that the station did not appear vindictive toward Cardenas and plans to invest time and training toward her career advancement.