NEW YORK -- A federal mediator on Thursday rejected a union's claim that ABC's lockout of 2,200 behind-the-scenes employees due to a labor dispute was illegal.
The decision was a blow to the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians. The union and ABC will return to the bargaining table on Friday for the first time in more than six weeks.
The union's camera operators, producers and editors have been working without a contract since March 31, 1997. They staged a one-day strike over health benefits on Nov. 2, and ABC responded by locking union members out of their jobs until they promised advance warning of future job actions.
The union refused, and filed a complaint with the New York office of the National Labor Relations Board.
NLRB Regional Director Daniel Silverman ruled that the lockout was legal. He also said ABC had done its best to provide the union with sufficient information about health benefits, the issue that prompted the one-day strike.
"It just totally vindicates the actions of this company," ABC spokeswoman Julie Hoover said. "This company behaved legally and appropriately in every case."
Union spokesman Tom Donahue said Silverman's decision will be appealed to Washington's NLRB office. He said the union won't provide ABC with the assurances it wants, so the lockout will continue.
"Pursuing the legal front was only one aspect of this dispute," he said. "The central objective has been and will remain securing a fair contract for our workers."
With its replacement workers, ABC is destroying itself with "black holes, audio bloopers and other embarrassing technical flaws," Donahue said. Celebrities like Vice President Al Gore, Adam Sandler, Tony Bennett and Whoopi Goldberg have refused to cross picket lines to appear on ABC shows.
ABC has said its replacement workers have been improving every day.