Station Break

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AFTRA under fire at WPXI(TV)

With negotiations between WPXI(TV) Pittsburgh and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists going months past the contract's expiration, there's a move at the station to decertify the union. A petition was filed by with the National Labor Relations Board by reporter Alan Jennings, and a hearing is set for this week, which could lead to a decertification vote.

Jennings, who would not comment on the petition or labor issues, led a successful drive to decertify AFTRA at WTAE-TV Pittsburgh when he was a reporter there four years ago. According to the petition, a significant number of the 30 AFTRA-covered employees back decertification, but local AFTRA leader Mark Wirick said he believes the union would survive a decertification vote. A meeting between union and management was postponed following the petition filing.

"We've known for some time that the members are unhappy about their conditions there," Wirick acknowledged. "We've been attempting for eight months to gain a contract that deals with work hours and workload. Now we're hamstrung by this."

General Manager John Howell would not comment on negotiation specifics or decertification but said that each of the past few AFTRA negotiations have been protracted. Members have been working without a contract since December, he said, "and [decertification] just came up."

KWCH-TV goes to court over trial

KWCH-TV Wichita, Kan., is seeking greater media access to a sensational local trial of two brothers charged with several murders. The station, joined by the Wichita Eagle newspaper, has asked the state Supreme Court to unseal documents kept from the public by order of the Sedgwick County judge overseeing the case.

"The defense says their clients can't get a fair trial because of the publicity" that freeing the documents would generate, said News Director Mitch Jacob, "and the prosecution agrees." But the records, he added, deal with the alleged motivations of the accused and are normally available to the media in criminal cases. It's unknown when the state's high court will rule on the media motion, but a county judge last week denied a defense motion to stay the criminal proceedings while the motion is pending.

Discrimination trial begins in Miami

The age-discrimination lawsuit brought by former WPLG(TV) Miami weekend anchor Steve Alvarez against the station got under way in federal court last week. It was expected to draw a witness list that includes, according to local reports, General Manager John Garwood, News Director Bill Pohovey, sports anchor Jimmy Cefalo, anchor Dwight Lauderdale and departed station anchors Ana Azcuy and Eliott Rodriguez. Charges of racial discrimination against the station were dismissed before the trial began.

It's not the first high-profile discrimination case for Post-Newsweek Stations. In 1999, Janet Peckinpaugh won a multimillion-dollar verdict on a gender-discrimination claim, which was settled out of court while the case was being appealed.

WSBK-TV slates 7 p.m. Newscast

Viacom-owned WSBK-TV Boston will launch a 7 p.m. newscast this fall, using resources from sister CBS station WBZ-TV but with a different on-air look. The station will be running access titans Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy, acquired in April after they were dropped by WHDH-TV, during the hour before news.

Ed Goldman, who runs both stations, said the station plans to gear the half-hour newscast to people who are not home in time for earlier newscasts. It will not, he said, "be the WBZ news at 7. We will be building two independently branded products" with some additional resources likely. The stations, which are in the process of moving in together, will also share news resources.

Also at WBZ-TV, Bruce Schwoegler, 33-year station veteran meteorologist, was let go. His agent, Stephen Freyer, said his client is not retiring and will be looking for opportunities inside and outside the market.

Double play

WFOR-TV Miami Vice President and General Manager Steve Mauldin will take on those roles at WBFS(TV) Miami in running the CBS group's duopoly in that city, station group President Fred Reynolds announced Monday. "In a short time and in one of the country's most competitive markets, Steve has built WFOR into the leading station in Miami," Reynolds said.

Clarification

Stefan Mychajliw contacted Station Break to say that, although he continues to partner with Scott Jones on other Web sites, he is no longer involved in F—edTelevision.com (see May 28 issue).

All news is local. Contact Dan Trigoboff at 301-260-0923, e-mail dtrig@erols.com, or fax 202-463-3742.

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