Channel 7's camera and sound equipment operators and technicians walked off their jobs at the ABC-affiliate television station a week ago when contract negotiations broke down.
Representatives of the 85 striking workers, members of Local 31 of the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians, said the walkout was prompted by station management's refusal to budge from positions adopted at the beginning of the contract talks.
Late yesterday, a union official reported that both sides had agreed to meet today with federal mediators.
When the union walked out on Oct. 12, there had been 26 negotiating sessions since the contract expired Aug. 1. The old contract was extended while negotiations were under way.
Although union pickets have been out in front of the station every day and have followed nonunion crews around and picketed locations where they were working, a station spokeswoman said that operations are near normal.
The major issue in the labor dispute, according to both sides, is jurisdiction over new types of equipment and new work processes. According to the union, the company is trying to take positions that are now union positions and make them nonunion.
The union said the company also has made vague demands for jurisdiction over equipment that hasn't yet evolved.
Still another issue, according to a spokesman for the striking workers, Chester Panzer, is an attempt by the station's management to get rid of a clause in the contract that prevents WJLA (named for owner Joe L. Allbritton) from picking up film from other networks on events that occur within a 50-mile radius.
Panzer also said that management wants a broad "management rights" clause that would allow the station to ignore past practices.
"They're still on strike, and we're still doing their jobs," said WJLA spokeswoman Lindy Spero at the end of last week. Spero described the issue as the "company's right to determine staffing and use of equiment." She said the company has offered to guarantee workers' jobs and to retrain them on the new technology.
Union negotiator Ed Kennedy, a maintenance technician at WJLA, said the training proposal had not been made at the table. "We don't have a problem with technology. That's our business," Kennedy said. "If they want to replace us with a machine, okay. Where we have a problem is where our work still exists and they want to transfer it to somone else."
Some politicians have refused to allow nonunion WJLA crews to attend press conferences or to film them in interviews, union representatives said. Spero said that at least one, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), had done so.
In spite of the strike, however, "things here each day become a little smoother and easier," Spero said. "We're getting back to normal."