Sportscaster Glenn Brenner, wearing a Philadelphia Eagles T-shirt and blue shorts, bounded onto the sidewalk outside television station WDVM where his fellow union members were picketing.
"Hey Pat," he yelled to the newly anointed shop steward, reporter Pat Collins, in the voice of a whining child, "I left my sign at home. Can I get another one?"
Several hours later he moaned, "If Jimmy Hoffa could see this picket line, he'd turn over in his grave."
The line may have been small (about a dozen at any given time) but what it lacked in size it made up for in local video glamor, the stars of Channel 9's award-winning news team, the One and Only TeeVee Nine, hitting the pavement alongside and on behalf of their off-screen colleagues.
There are about 50 members of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) at WDVM. As far as Collins knew, all of them were on strike yesterday.
The shows help staff - "News for the Deaf," Morning Break," the "One O'Clock News," the 90 minutes of local evening news and "PM Magazine," "Harambee" and "Everywoman" - will be peopled by unfamiliar faces until the strike is settled. "Scabs" is what the picketers call them, in less than friendly tones.
The issue is pay: The union is asking for increases for the eight writer and assistant director positions that would total about $25,000 over the next three years, Collins said, and management is offering substantially less.
One "scab" - editorial director Rich Adams - created a ruckus at the District Building yesterday when he refused to leave a press conference Mayor Marion Barry was trying to hold. Reporters Steve Gendel and Susan King had asked Barry not to talk to non-union reporters, and he agreed.
Gendel brought the news, to the troops on the sidewalk. "Breaking news, everyone," he shouted. "Gather round. Hear ye! Hear ye! Confrontation at City Hall!" He read a report in news style standing on the steps of the television station:
"Mayor Marion Berry refused to hold a press conference with Rich Adams in the room . . ." he read in the mellow tones that distnguish his trade, going on to report that when Adams refused to leave, the mayor canceled the press conference and then invited the other reporters into his office for a press conference about minority-owned businesses.
"Reporter Steve Gendel said he was 'shocked and disappointed' that the confrontation had occurred," Gendel intoned, as the group laughed and cheered.
"I've changed my name to Norma Rae," said King, who like the other reporters had no hestitation in walking out Tuesday night after a last minute final vote (the first strike vote was taken a week ago) in a nearby restaurant.
Yesterday the strikers were buoyed by the spirit of untidy they found not only among themselves but with television personalities at other stations who dropped by to offer support.
Yesterday the fight seemed right to the picketers and no one was worrying about paying mortgages or bills. (They do no get strike benefits.) AFTRA sent over a load of sandwiches and soft drinks, a telephone was ordered installed on the sidewalk, and a makeshift strike headquarters was set up in Gendel's van.
"We just don't understand why they'd take a strike for $25,000," Collins said. "If they're going after unions, why pick on these guys who don't make any money? Why not go after me, go after the big shots who are making more than $40,000 a year? It's a total mystery."
WDVM General Manger Ed Pfeiffer, to whom questions about the strike were referred, refused to confirm the $25,000 figure or comment on any other aspect of the strike. "To get into specifics in the newspaper would be counterproductive," he said.
Meanwhile, reporters and other personnel have been flown in from out of town to augment the non-union managerial employes like Adams. Since camera crews and technicians belong to another union and are not being asked to honor AFTRA's picket line, the station is making an effort to cover the news despite the strike.
The history of this conflict goes back a year, when the Detroit Evening News Association and The Washington Post Co. swapped television stations after a court ruled that the Federal Communications Commission could force publishing companies to sell broadcast stations in cities in which newspapers were also owned. This is according to Collins, who became the AFTRA shop steward after anchorman Gordon Peterson left a week ago on a long-planned vacation to Ireland. ("If it takes getting Gordon back from Ireland to prove our unity, we'll do it," Collins said, "but we'd hate to.")
The Detroit executives moved quickly to sign the "talent," as the on-air personalities are called, to personal contracts with substantial raises. The Channel 9 news program was and is the top-ranked show in the Washington area.
Indeed, one of the union's complaints is that while WDVM's ratings outrank its competitors, the pay scale proposed by the station's management would give assistant directors $5 less in three years than WRC's copyboys are making now ( $255 a week).
One of the little-known facts about the glamorous world of television news is that while the on-screen personalities can earn a king's ransom (up to $150,000 a year at WDVM), the writers, directors, producers, and assistants make less than the average government employe. Assistant director Jeff (kwasi) Smith, 25, for example, who was hired in 1976 as part of a minority training program, now makes $9,600 a year, he said, while writer Dick Wilson makes less than $20,000.
Since the Detroit group took over Channel 9, it has invested a considerable amount of money in the news operation for travel and new equipment. It has ordered two custom-made "mini-cam" trucks that cost about $250,000 apiece, Collins said, yet is balking at paying the two news writers as much as $22,000 a year, Pfeiffer said the $250,000 figure was not accurate, but refused to say how much the trucks cost.
Meanwhile, back on the picket line, organized labor's latest banner carriers are occasionally stopped by passers by who are amazed to see their familiar faces in the flesh. "Why, there's just no weather without Gordon Barnes," said a Virginia man who stopped his green Mercedes to gawk, "Call the station and tell the," urged several picketers. CAPTION: Picture, Glenn Brenner and Gordon Barnes, by John McDonnell - The Washington Post