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Celebrities, Unions, Pols Turn Keylight on ABC's NABET Lockout

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Film and television celebrities have focused a spotlight on the growing number of protesters‹ranging from UPS and Airborne drivers to democratic politicians‹who oppose the NABET-CWA lockout ordered by ABC Television, a Disney subsidiary.

The network's lockout of broadcast employees and technicians follows their unannounced, one-day walkout on Mon., Nov. 2, an action organized and carried out by members of the National Association of Broadcast Employees Communication Workers of America (NABET-CWA).

Although NABET-CWA members indicated from the start that they planned to return to work at ABC by 5 am the next day, the network insisted on 72 hours advance notice of future labor actions. When the union refused, ABC ordered striking workers locked out.

Since then, the actor Danny Aiello has twice joined the NABET-CWA picket line in New York, while singer Tony Bennett, actor Whoopi Goldberg, and actor/musician Adam Sandler have refused to cross picket lines to appear as guests on ABC shows.

Sandler's action is particularly noteworthy because he is actively publicizing his new film, the Walt Disney live-action hit, "The Waterboy." Last weekend, "Waterboy" broke the opening-weekend box office record for a non-summer release with $39.1 million in gross receipts.

Disney/ABC's labor problems center on benefit issues, specifically the release of certain information that the employer says is proprietary and controlled by insurance companies.

The Mouse's labor problems aren't limited to television. In Florida, Disney World workers have just rejected a contract offer. Of Disney World's 51,000 employees, fewer than 20% are union workers. On Nov. 6, Reuters News Service reported that actors at Disney World had rejected a new contract offer by a 2 to 1 margin. Disney World costume actors, who stroll the park portraying Disney characters, were the most vocal opponents of the agreement. The actors sought gains in pay, recognition of seniority, and rescheduling to alleviate the burden of wearing heavy costumes for long periods.

Still, the farthest reaching labor dispute affecting Disney is the walkout-turned-lockout between NABET-CWA and the ABC television network. The NABET/ABC conflict has prompted media coverage, boycotts of news programs by democratic pols and rallies nationwide. The greatest concentration of network staff affected by the lockout is located in five metropolitan centers, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.

"We struck on Monday [Nov. 2]," said NABET spokesperson Tom Donahue, "and we simultaneously announced that we'd return to work at 5 a.m. Tuesday."

Donahue said that the members of the union of broadcast employees and technicians had gone on strike because they had not been allowed to obtain details on the Disney health plan that was offered to ABC employees.

Mocking Disney's trademark, Mickey Mouse, the union has placed a large inflatable rat near the Disney Store/ABC complex located at Columbus and West 66th Street in Manhattan.

A rally was held in Boston on Mon., Nov. 9 by CWA members to "protest ABCs illegal lockout," Donahue said.

AFTRA's Boyd Acts

AFTRA's L.A. chapter president, Susan Boyd, spoke at a Local 57 rally of NABET-CWA members near the Disney headquarters in Burbank last Thurs., Nov. 5. Boyd was unavailable for comment, but a source said she has advised her members not to cross the picket lines, although certain AFTRA members, such as newscasters, must do so.

Donahue added that Pittsburgh-area union members were scheduled to join members of the locked-out ABC football crew outside Three River Stadium on Mon., Nov. 9 to protest while ABC's scab crews broadcast the Monday Night Football game from inside the stadium and the production trailer.

According to Donahue, Airborne and UPS refused to cross the NABET picket line, thus interrupting package deliveries to ABC in New York last week. Twice, Donahue said, singer Tony Bennett has cancelled his appearance on ABC's "The View," because he wouldn't cross the picket line, while actor Danny Aiello has actually joined the picketers on two separate occasions.

"There's been no progress in resolving the lockout as of today," Donahue said. "As of Monday, more than 2,400 people remain on the picket lines, ready to return to work immediately."

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