Lawmakers worry Comcast-NBC merger would cut jobs

The concerns were raised by House members Thursday during a hearing on the proposed deal combining the nation's largest cable provider with the huge network broadcaster.

"Universal Studios is located in my district," said Rep. Howard Berman (D), a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee who represents Los Angeles.

"It is a major employer. Not only Universal Studios but there are all kinds of other companies whose existence and well-being is related to the strength of the company. This is a jobs issue for me in a very real sense," he said.

Comcast has insisted the deal will not result in massive job cuts, and CEO Brian Roberts, who testified Thursday, insisted the two companies have very few overlapping jobs. As a result, he said, there will not be a need for workforce reduction.

"This merger is to build and reinvest in Universal Studios, NBC and the great entertainment properties they have," Roberts said.

Roberts said in a previous House hearing that he did not expect layoffs after the merger.

But Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America, says the $30 billion merger will put intense financial pressure on NBC, whose debt will increase by approximately $8 billion, to cut costs and jobs.

"With official unemployment now at 10 percent, this is a time to evaluate all corporate transactions through a screen that assesses the impact on jobs," Cohen said. "We should not support a corporate deal that would eliminate good jobs."

Cohen said Comcast has a long history of "aggressive action to eliminate" organized labor at the companies it has acquired. NBC Universal, in contrast, has a track record of collective bargaining with multiple unions.

"With the merger, an aggressively anti-union Comcast would be in control of labor relations, and an employer that has taken the low-road employment strategy will expand its ability to put downward pressure on living standards throughout the communications and media sectors," Cohen said in his testimony.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), brought up the labor issue as well, asking why Comcast is perceived as an anti-union company.

Cable operators have traditionally not been unionized, Roberts said. Overall, 2 percent of the company's workers belong to unions. On the programming side, about 13 to 14 percent are involved in organized labor.

"One of our commitments up front is to continue good relationships with the guilds and unions that NBC Universal has," Roberts said. 

This is the third time Roberts and NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker have appeared before Congress this month to answer questions about the merger — the biggest one in the media industry since the union of AOL and Time Warner. The most common concerns voiced by lawmakers relate to the potential harm the merger would have on video service competition, cable prices and diversity of programming in the cable and broadcasting industry.