It was a dark day for Meredith's WFSB-TV Hartford, Conn., last Thursday when anchors and reporters lodged a protest over stalled contract negotiations by wearing black.
According to American Federation of Television and Radio Artists New England Director Tom Higgins, the protest was being characterized by some in management as an attempt to sabotage the newscasts.
The staffers, who have been trying to renegotiate new contracts with the station since November 2002, alerted viewers (and management) of their sartorial job action in an ad in the Hartford Courant
explaining why they'd be wearing black and spelling out their grievances and criticizing the station.
Higgins had said earlier that staffers would not dress entirely in black—it's a violation of station policy—but management did ask some newspeople wearing a little too much black to change clothes. Higgins said the staffers complied.
The headline on the Courant
ad read, "It is a dark day at channel 3," and the ad said the station "does not value our relationship with the community" and has "turned out the lights on twenty-five years of positive labor relations." Among its criticisms are what the ad says is WFSB-TV's ability to "replace us with subcontractors, fire us and not pay severance," impose non-compete clauses and limit discrimination claims.
Higgins said the goal of the "nonverbal" protest was to re-open dialogue. "The members decided they needed to do something to get the company back to the table." Unfortunately, management "appeared to be taking it personally, which was not our intention."
The station's management saw it a little differently. "Putting an ad in the newspaper, wearing clothing that makes them look like funeral directors on-air in a rating period: Would we take that personally?" asked Elden Hale, vice president and general manager of WFSB-TV. "Would the 87% of the people who don't belong to AFTRA but have to live with the ratings take it personally?"
Hale would not comment on the AFTRA action or the labor negotiations beyond characterizing the charges and characterizations in the ad as "typical union folderol" and saying he that did not know what would now happen with regards to any new contract negotiations.
Higgins said some in management accused the staffers of "sabotage," but Hale told the Courant
he never used that word and didn't know of any managers who did.
According to Higgins, by Friday, some staffers had received formal written warnings for participating, "with the threat of up to and including termination if the action is repeated."