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July 30, 2014

Labor Dispute May Shut Down NBC's Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting

by Gary Susman, posted Dec 1st 2009 7:34PM
Will NBC's 12th annual 'Christmas at Rockefeller Center' special, scheduled for tomorrow night -- with singers and actors prepared to celebrate the lighting of the famed Christmas tree -- go dark?

That's the threat posed by members of National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians (NABET-CWA) Local 11, which issued a statement today saying it would halt the show via a wildcat strike if NBC doesn't make progress on stalled negotiations with the union, which has been working without a contract since March.

If the broadcast goes dark, don't blame the union -- blame NBC, says NABET-CWA Local 11 president Ed McEwan in the statement. "We can't let the Grinch at NBC steal another Christmas from thousands of honest working people," McEwan says in the statement. "This charade must stop. Christmas is supposed to be a time of goodwill, but the network's management is trying to hide behind their fancy lights while leaving their employees in the dark."

In fact, the union extends the Grinch metaphor to its strike website, NBCStoleChristmas.com, which features an illustration of a corporate Grinch making off with the Rockefeller Center tree, as well as a few stanzas of Dr. Seuss-like verse ("For the NBC grinch's heart is two sizes too small/He won't meet with the workers, though they're right down the hall").

The statement says the union, which represents tech crews and has been in contract talks with NBC for more than a year, seeks a compromise with NBC over the hiring of non-union temps to do technical work, but that network management has grown "increasingly hostile" and intransigent.

Several NBC spokespersons did not respond to Inside TV's repeated requests for comment. A statement from the network regarding the situation was expected but was not released before this post was published.

Of course, the announcement of a strike threat a day in advance gives NBC time to round up a non-union crew that could produce the live broadcast. But what about the stars? NBC actors Jane Krakowski ('30 Rock') and Zachary Levi ('Chuck') are slated to host, and performers set to appear include Michael Bublé, Aretha Franklin, Alicia Keys, Barry Manilow, Jo Dee Messina, the Roots, Shakira, Rod Stewart, Rob Thomas, and Taylor Schilling and James Tupper (stars of NBC's 'Mercy'). All of them are, presumably, members of entertainment unions. A source close to NABET-CWA Local 11 tells Inside TV that striking workers would expect performers who are union members themselves not to cross the picket line.

Without the performers, the show would be 59 minutes of darkness, followed by somebody flipping a switch to light the tree.

UPDATE: NBC has issued a statement that blames the union, not management, for the stalled contract talks. "It is ironic that NABET is apparently unhappy about lack of progress in its NBC Universal negotiations when it is the union which recently canceled three days scheduled for negotiations, November 18, 19 and 20th," the statement reads. "Since that time, despite the Company's availability for meetings, the union has failed to offer alternative dates, as promised, and is apparently unwilling to meet with NBC Universal. Progress can only be made in labor negotiations when the parties are negotiating. It is unfortunate that the union is resorting to threats as opposed to meeting its obligation to engage in collective bargaining."

UPDATE: Late Wednesday afternoon, NABET-CWA Local 11 decided not to disrupt the tree lighting broadcast. Chapter president McEwan issued a statement, saying, "We're not going to let the Grinch at NBC ruin Christmas for millions of people around the world. So we're going to stay on the job. We hope that NBC sees Christmas as a time of goodwill, too, and that they negotiate a new and fair contract with us." Regarding the canceled talks in November, McEwan said the union had issued a bulletin saying it had to cancel because of a death in the family of one of the union negotiators. "Instead of trying to throw snow in everyone's eyes," McEwan wrote, "NBC should answer the charges against them of unfair negotiating."

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