The union that represents the on-air personalities at Boston’s WHDH-TV (Channel 7) has reached a contract agreement with the station after more than two years of contentious negotiations.
The three-year deal will phase out fees paid to anchors and reporters for on-air appearances - a hotly contested issue during negotiations - in exchange for a 2 percent increase in their base salaries.
After disagreements over the fees and salary provisions, and disagreements on how to handle accusations of age discrimination, talks between the Boston chapter of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists Screen Actors Guild and station management broke off last summer. At the time, some WHDH staffers publicly boycotted the station’s high-profile health expo event, which has featured the station’s on-air personalities.
“This was a very difficult and protracted negotiation with the station, particularly over the issue of fees,’’ said Tom Higgins, executive director of the guild’s Boston chapter, whose national and local board approved the new contract Wednesday night. “People are glad that it’s over, and wanted to move forward.’’
Chris Wayland, vice president and general manager at WHDH, said, “We are happy that we have come to an agreement,’’ but declined to comment on the particulars of the contract.
WHDH is home to several veteran staff, including Kim Khazei, who is the main anchor of the 5, 6, and 11 p.m. newscasts.
On-air talent compensation is based on a combination of base salary and those on-air fees, which could account for 25 to 50 percent of an anchor or reporter’s pay. Standard TV contracts run for about three years.
Another issue of contention during the lengthy contract talks was a charge of alleged age discrimination at WHDH’s parent company, Sunbeam Television of Miami, which also owns WLVI-TV (Channel 56). Company officials had denied the charges, and said they include in-house training for all forms of discrimination.
The guild, which represents about 30 on-air personalities at WHDH, proposed adding training and creating an employee committee to deal with age discrimination in the workplace.
Former freelance reporter Mike Macklin sued WHDH for age discrimination three years ago after he was passed over for a job. The case was settled out of court in 2009, and terms of the settlement were not made public.
Last year, a Florida jury awarded $937,000 in damages to Marilyn Mitzel, a former health reporter at Sunbeam’s Miami station, after she sued the company for age discrimination. Sunbeam filed with an appeal, which is still pending.
The union and WHDH did not come to an agreement on the age discrimination issue in the final contract.
“They did not want to acknowledge liability, and they did not want to address that issue,’’ said Ray Bradford, the guild’s national director of equal employment opportunities. “We wanted to get our members back to work with a good contract and get this settled.’’
But Bradford said the guild would endorse a new national campaign called “Combating Age Discrimination in Broadcast’’ to gather information about age discrimination and raise awareness about members and their rights in the workplace.
Although it has anchors and reporters in their late 20s and 30s, including morning team Anne Allred and Adam Williams, WHDH is also home to several veteran, older reporters and anchors. They include main anchor Kim Khazei, political reporter Andy Hiller, general assignment reporters Victoria Block and Jonathan Hall, and lead investigator Hank Phillippi Ryan, who are all over 50.
In the meantime, WHDH has made some new hires, including Reid Lamberty, who replaced longtime anchor Frances Rivera after she left the station for a morning anchor job in New York City in August.
Lamberty helms the station’s key 5, 6, and 11 p.m. newscasts with Khazei. WHDH also hired a new reporter and weekend anchor, Sarah French.