Published: Saturday, August 18, 2007
WYTV employees to lose seniority under new owner
Workers at the two television stations are concerned about layoffs.
YOUNGSTOWN For employees of WYTV, it doesn't matter to the television station's new owner if they've been there 30 minutes or 30 years.
In a Wednesday letter, Todd Parkin, chief executive officer of Parkin Broadcasting of Youngstown LLC, the station's new owner, wrote to union employees that they can remain at WYTV, the local ABC TV affiliate, but didn't give a time frame. To stay at the station, they must agree to give up their seniority and to be placed on a 90-day probationary period.
The letter states most WYTV workers will keep their jobs even though Parkin is entering into a $750,000 annual agreement to share services, including news production, with New Vision Television, which owns WKBN, the local CBS TV affiliate.
"We anticipate NVT will be handling news production, and they will offer employment to most of our employees," Parkin wrote. "Most employees who are not hired by NVT will be offered a severance plan."
Parkin's letter states the specifics of the agreement will be worked out within six months. Until then, things are up in the air, causing concern for workers at WYTV and WKBN.
"They haven't given us information on layoffs," said Jeff Necko, a Channel 33 technician and president of the National Association of Broadcast Engineers and Technicians Local 47. The union represents news reporters, videographers, producers, technicians and others at all local television stations. There are 36 members at WKBN and 53 at WYTV.
"There are concerns about layoffs and consolidation," Necko said. "They haven't said what's going to happen. People are concerned and frustrated by what's going to happen. I expect layoffs. The concern is how many and how it's done."
About a half-dozen workers at the two TV stations have resigned in recent months, several of them because of the uncertain future, he said.
Necko is also deeply bothered by Parkin's decision to eliminate seniority and place all employees on a 90-day probation period.
Joe Bell, a WKBN news reporter and the station's union shop steward, also wants a clear picture as to what the shared-services agreement would mean to his co-workers.
"We haven't had a clear answer as to how they intend to form this new enterprise," Bell said. "Some people's jobs are in jeopardy. A shared-service agreement would take two news organizations and blend them into one."
When New Vision bought WKBN on March 1, it also eliminated seniority and placed all its workers on a 90-day probationary period.
Dave Trabert, WYTV's general manager, said Parkin and New Vision will do what's best for both stations. Without a shared-services deal, there is the possibility one or both of the stations' news operations would be cut back or even eliminated, he said.
Most areas the size of the Mahoning Valley don't have all the major network TV stations, Trabert said, pointing to the nearby Akron-Canton area that has none.
"Sure, it's frustrating," Trabert said about the uncertain future of the two stations. "Everyone would like the answers."
But getting the new structure in place takes time, he said.
David Coy, WKBN's general manager, said he thinks sharing services will benefit both stations.
But Necko and Bell said a shared-service agreement would not be in the best interest of the public because it would be one fewer media voice in this area.
NABET filed an objection to the $15.5 million sale of WYTV by Chelsey Broadcasting of New York to Parkin, whose corporate headquarters is located in Los Angeles, because of the latter company's close ties to New Vision.
Parkin and New Vision share office space in Los Angeles and its owners have a "cozy relationship," Bell said.
In its objection to the Federal Communications Commission, NABET objected to Parkin's purchase, which includes an option for New Vision to buy WYTV after one year for $16.5 million, and for years two through five of the option period to buy it with a $500,000 annual increase in the sales price.
The union also wrote that "it is not difficult to infer that New Vision will 'cherry pick' among the two groups of employees, retaining a smaller core group of desired employees, to the detriment of seniority, experience and possibly even union representation."
The FCC approved the sale and the shared-services agreement July 30.