Maybe it was the ugly spectre of the WGA having two strikes going at the same time. Perhaps it was the prospect of CBS being without 500 journalists during the peak of primary season.
Either way, the Writers Guild of America and CBS finally agreed to a tentative deal on a contract that runs through April 1, 2010.
Members would get a 3.5 percent raise upon ratification and another 3.5 percent next year. Full-time employees will also get a one-time payment of $3,700. Sounds nice, until you consider that the last contract expired in 2005, and that $3,700 represents -- on average -- only about 60 percent of the lost pay.
But the union held firm on jurisdictional issues the company was pressing, and fought off a two-tier wage scale where local radio employees would get smaller raises.
And it appears they rejected any attempts to encroach on the so-called "no-lunch" hour. Many shifts, particularly in radio, are for eight straight hours without a lunch. The eighth hour is paid at 2.5 times the hourly rate in compensation.
With each negotiation, the company tries to get the Guild to give up that money, which the CBS Guild negotiators have always firmly rejected (full disclosure: I helped negotiate the previous two contracts for the Guild).
Shockingly, ABC News writers represented by the Guild gave up the no lunch in exchange for a $25 payment and agreed to a two-tier wage scale where new employees will be paid less.
The ABC writers have always been a more-timid lot, and in agreeing to the contract they did, began engineering their own eventual demise.
I'm glad to see my CBS brethren didn't trod that path. At the same time, I hope they don't forget the bitter lesson from this contract: don't let a contract expire without first taking a strike authorization vote, which was not held this time until 2.5 years AFTER the contract expired. That meant management had absolutely no incentive to negotiate in good faith.
And they didn't, because no one forced their hand. The Guild leadership should have known better based on past experience. Because they did nothing of substance to move negotiations forward until now, they cost members thousands of dollars in lost wages.
It's a victory in the sense that CBS news writers don't have to endure what would likely have been a protracted strike. But they could have had a better deal and more money, had their union confronted the company a lot sooner than it did.