Op-Ed in Washington Post on Reality TV Conditions

9/10/14: (Pictured: Aiyana Stanley-Jones, who was killed in a police action filmed by the ITV Studios-produced reality show The First 48.) Writers Guild of America, East Executive Director Lowell Peterson penned an op-ed which appears in today's Washington Post, which reads in part: "If the networks want to keep their collaborators safe, reduce the embarrassments from cancelled shows, and prevent lawsuits that hold them liable for accidents, things have to change. It’s time for reality TV to stop treating people like chattel."

Read more here.

Read It And Weep: Nonfiction Producer Stories on Gawker

8/14/14: More than three hundred producers wrote in to tell their stories when Gawker invited them to do so in The Grim Realities of Reality TV.  Here's part of a story:  "Corporate credit card? Forget it. We often have to use personal credit cards while on the road making it easy for the company to reject your expenses and only partially reimburse you. As a freelancer you are a second class citizen (at best)...Production companies negotiate a weekly rate but there is no discussion of how many hours per day or how many days per week you'll need to log to make their impossibly tight deadlines. It's assumed you'll work on weekends and the only question is, 'what time will you get in?' "

Read more here.

 

ITV plc Posts 46% Profit Jump In Midyear Results

7/30/14:  ITV plc, the parent company of ITV Studios, said Wednesday it is ignoring talk that it is a takeover candidate,  as it posted a 46% jump in profit on higher revenue.

ITV Chief Executive Adam Crozier said, "We see plenty of headroom and plenty of growth in front of us...We have a very clear strategy which is delivering excellent results." 

On an earnings call, Crozier answered a question about the company's battles with the Writers Guild by saying, "We're in conversations with the various parties. I think that common sense no doubt will prevail."

Read more on ITV's midyear ("interim") financial results:

Hollywood Reporter

Wall Street Journal

Writer-Producers at Original Media Vote to Join Writers Guild

7/11/14: The WGAE today announced that a majority of writer-producers at New York-based nonfiction (reality) TV production company Original Media voted overwhelmingly to join the Guild in an election held by the National Labor Relations Board. The vote was 42 to 9.

Original Media produces popular shows such as Ink Master (Spike) and Dual Survival (Discovery).

“The men and women who work so hard to create nonfiction (reality) TV shows have demonstrated that they want WGAE representation to help them improve their working conditions and to build sustainable careers. We look forward to sitting down with the company and negotiating a contract that will provide health benefits, paid time off, minimum compensation levels, and other basic union protections,” said Lowell Peterson, Executive Director.

Nonfiction Producers Band Together In New Trade Group

7/1/2014:  A few days after the New York City Council held a hearing into working conditions in nonfiction/reality television, a new trade group was announced, with an initial membership of eight New York-based companies, and led by Rick Feldman, the former president of NATPE ( National Association of Television Programming Executives).

WGA East Executive Director Lowell Peterson said the formation of the new trade group "shows that reality TV is consolidating, is profitable and wants to play in the big leagues. I  look forward to sitting down with Mr. Feldman and talking about working conditions and respect for the right of employees to bargain collectively."

The companies are:

Atlas Media Corp., Big Fish Entertainment, Jane Street Entertainment, Leftfield Pictures, Loud TV, Magilla Entertainment, Original Media and True Entertainment.

Media coverage:

Deadline Hollywood

Realscreen

Variety

 

City Council Hearing on "Sweatshop" Conditions in Nonfiction TV

6/25/14: NEW YORK - The New York City Council’s Civil Service and Labor Committee, chaired by Councilman I. Daneek Miller, today held a public hearing to probe sweatshop conditions for freelance workers in the reality TV industry, as a new report from the Writers Guild of America East shows the reality TV industry is booming and generates enough revenue to create many stable, high-quality jobs.

See photos from the event here.

“It is important to the City of New York to encourage the growth of well-paying, stable jobs in the creative economy. Nonfiction television, an expanding and lucrative industry, is important to this growth. The jobs it provides should meet certain standards that our community values, not the least of which is adherence to the law,” said Councilman Miller.

"What these big companies have figured out is how to squeeze the most out of their employees. These companies contract to make programs on ever-shorter schedules, which means the producers, associate producers, editors, and crews have to work ever-longer hours. These companies don’t pay overtime for these longer hours,” said David Von Taylor, nonfiction television producer for over 25 years. “The current business model of non-fiction television- which depends on squeezing freelancers beyond the limits of the law and their endurance- is not sustainable for me, for my colleagues, or New City.” 

Press coverage of the hearing:

Labor Notes

Broadcast Now UK

AM New York

AM New York Opinion

Deadline Hollywood

Capital New York

The Wrap

CBS New York

Crain's New York Business

Epoch Times

 

City Council hearing this week - and upcoming union election

6/20/14: The New York City council's labor committee will hold a hearing on Wed, June 25, starting at 10AM, titled "The Real Reality of Reality TV." Councilmembers will learn about the working conditions, lack of benefits,  and labor violations that are endemic to this industry, and how they affect the New York City work force.

See the article in the New York Daily News here.

In the future, the Council may consider legislation or regulations to force improvements in the industry. Additionally, the Writers Guild and other parties may develop a Code of Conduct and encourage production companies and networks to sign on.

“At the hearing we hope to learn more about whether it will be necessary to involve the key players — production companies, networks, employee representatives — in an effort to establish and maintain better standards, perhaps with an industry code of conduct,” Committee Chair Councilman Miller said in a letter to Networks and production companies in the NYC market.
 
Lowell Peterson, executive director of the Writers Guild, said, “Television is a medium that requires public support—they need audiences to care. I think there's some sensitivity to having scrutiny.”
 
There will be three panels: one anchored by Peterson; one with the National Employment Law Project (NELP), focusing on how these issues affect a broad range of workers; and one with writers, producers and associate producers, describing the impact on their own lives.  Executives from networks and production companies have also been invited to attend.
 
The Writers Guild of America East (WGAE) last year surveyed 1,200 writers, producers and freelancers in reality TV and found they were losing, on average, $30,000 each in unpaid overtime and other benefits. The WGAE is seeking to develop industry wide standards to establish health insurance, paid time off, fair compensation and reasonable working hours for all freelance employees in the industry.

The WGAE campaign to raise standards is gaining steam as Freelance Producers at Original Media are set to vote in an National Labor Board election in the coming week.  This after Sharp employees voted overwhelmingly for the WGAE and won a contract earlier this year.   This letter from the industry-wide organizing committee to Original voters explains what's at stake:


"Winning this vote at Original adds another major company to our ranks and will help build on the momentum we have created at other companies. This isn’t about bad companies that deserve unions and good companies that don’t – it’s about an industry that is untenable for the freelancers that make it work, and about those freelancers having a say in the direction of their own professional lives by negotiating together with the huge media conglomerates that currently call the shots.

It’s about freelancers from every company working together to share best practices and big ideas about how this industry could work better for them, fixing what doesn’t work and solidifying what does. "

You can read more about the hearing here .

Details of union election at Original Media

6/10/14:  If you have worked at Original Media in the past year, please read this!

Here is a link to our
FAQ document.

Election details have been set for those eligible to vote in the Original Media election.   For those currently working at Original Media, you will vote at work on Thursday, June 26.

For those of you not currently working at Original, you will vote by mail, and those ballots will go out on Friday, June 20.

Anyone who has worked at Original in the past 52 weeks (from May 16, 2013 to the present) will be eligible to vote.  A letter from the Industry-Wide Organizing Committee explained what Original Media employees hoped to gain though organizing:

“We believe that organizing with the WGA is the change we need. We believe that having industry-wide standard minimum rates that everyone knows, portable employer paid health insurance that follows us from job to job, and some common sense rules about hours and health and safety are good first steps that are within the realm of possible worlds if we get the production companies to negotiate with us. Looking even further down the road we envision things like pensions, residuals, and rates of pay that will make it possible to have long, productive careers in this industry.”

Read more from the Organizing Committee statement here.

WGAE Files For Union Election At Original Media

5/21/14:  Last week the WGAE filed cards with the National Labor Relations Board, indicating that the majority of freelance producers and APs at Original Media want to form a union with the Writers Guild of America, East.

This comes just a few months after freelancers at Sharp Entertainment organized and negotiated a union contract. Producers and APs at Original Media are hoping that by following in Sharp's footsteps, they can not only make some immediate improvements at Original,  but also grow the campaign for better standards for freelancers industry-wide.

Original Media, which produces hit shows like Ink Master, Swamp People, Dual Survival, and BBQ Pitmasters, is a subsidiary of Endemol, one of the largest companies in the industry. Just this week Endemol announced plans for a historic merger with Fox's Shine Group and Core Media (which owns Sharp Entertainment).

Endemol's deal is the largest of several major mergers and acquisitions announced in the past few weeks, including All3Media's deal with Discovery and ITV's purchase of Leftfield.  That's a billion dollars pumped in to the independent television production industry in one month - proof that nonfiction is incredibly profitable.

Consolidation at the top makes sense for these companies. They are banding together to minimze risk and maximize value and profits. Freelancers are doing the same thing. Only by organizing together industry-wide can freelancers set minimums, establish health care solutions that work, and have a voice in how shows are made.  A union is the surest way to make sure you share in the success your hard work has created for these major multi-national media companies.

ITV under pressure over US worker benefits

5/12/14: ITV Studios just paid $360 million to acquire Pawn Stars producer Leftfield Entertainment, capping an 18-month acquisition push which, according to the company, makes ITV the largest independent unscripted TV producer in the United States.

ITV also paid its CEO, Adam Crozier, £8.4 million last year, far above the UK average, and is getting blowback from shareholders on that issue.

ITV clearly sees how profitable it can be to produce nonfiction television in the US.  These profits come largely from the exploitation of the freelance producers who actually craft the shows ITV airs and sells to networks like A&E, E! and National Geographic.  

Now the WGAE, the AFL-CIO and others are calling on the British conglomerate to improve benefits for its American workers.  The guild is seeking minimum levels of compensation, health benefits and paid time off.  At least 100 writer-producers work at ITV Studios at some point during the year; currently, ITV employs 40 WGAE members in New York.

ITV producers and associate producers voted for the WGAE three years ago, but the company has dragged its feet on signing a contract with the union.  AFL-CIO executive vice president Tefere Gebre delivered a letter to ITV executives calling on them to negotiate.  Gebre said, "Nothing but greed is what's holding up the whole deal."

New York City Councilmember Corey Johnson, whose district includes ITV's New York offices, also called on executives to sign a contract.  He said creative workers are essential to the New York City economy, and should not be exploited by a business model built on long hours for substandard pay and no benefits.  He applauded the efforts of ITV's producer-writers to win a union contract that would allow them to build sustainable careers, strengthening the City's middle class for years to come.

See photos from the day:  http://imgur.com/a/TwidF

Read media coverage of the ITV issue:

Evening Standard: US writers hit out at ITV

Daily Mail: ITV greed may force US workers to strike

UNI MEI global media union: Respect ITV US writers

Broadcast Now: US Writers Guild at odds with ITV over benefits

Guardian:  ITV under pressure from Writers Guild and AFL-CIO over US worker benefits

Variety: ITV blasted over Leftfield purchase

Realscreen: Unions protest outside ITV offices

Deadline: NYC councilman says ITV unfair to labor

 C21: Unions pressure ITV over Leftfield

 

 

WGAE leaflets Newfronts about ITV Studios

5/6/14: The WGAE held an informational picket today at the Nat Geo/Nat Geo Wild Newfronts presentation in New York.

The goal of the NewFronts, or new upfronts, is to encourage marketers and ad agencies to spend more money on digital ads, either by increasing budgets or shifting TV dollars to online media.  Both "new faces" like Google, Hulu and Yahoo and traditional TV networks hold presentations to encourage marketers to invest in their digital offerings.

Nat Geo Wild's show Cesar 911 is the breakout hit of the year for the network.  The producers who make this show and others for ITV Studios work long hours and receive no overtime or health benefits.  ITV producers voted to join the WGAE, but ITV Studios refuses to sign a contract.  

The WGAE's leaflet encouraged media buyers to consider whether a company like ITV Studios and their combative approach to labor relations is good or bad for their brands.

 

WGAE Signs Contract with Sharp Entertainment

5/2/14: The WGAE said today that it has reached a new collective bargaining pact with Sharp Entertainment that covers its writers and producers.  Said WGAE Executive Director Lowell Peterson: "We are very pleased to have reached an agreement with Sharp that includes the provisions we have won for writer-producers employed by other nonfiction TV production companies – compensation minimums, paid time off, union security, grievance and arbitration and, perhaps most importantly, employer-provided health benefits."  Sharp produces shows including Fish Tank Kings (Nat Geo Wild) and Toy Hunter (travel Channel).

Musicians, Writers Stand Together for Justice on May Day

5/1/14:  WGAE and the American Federation of Musicians (AFM Local 802) celebrated May Day by coming together to fight for economic justice.  We stopped at NBC offices at 30 Rockefeller Plaza to urge Peacock Productions to count the votes and recognize the WGAE. 

We also stopped at the Lionsgate headquarters nearby to support AFM's Listen Up Now campaign.  Lionsgate, one of the largest film production studios, is sending musicians’ jobs overseas, while taking millions in New York taxpayer subsidies for their film productions.  To find out more, go to http://listenupnow.org/

New York Times Editorial: Wage Theft Across The Board

4/22/14: When labor advocates and law enforcement officials talk about wage theft, they are usually referring to situations in which low-wage service-sector employees are forced to work off the clock, paid subminimum wages, cheated out of overtime pay or denied their tips. It is a huge and underpoliced problem. It is also, it turns out, not confined to low-wage workers.

In the days ahead, a settlement is expected in an antitrust lawsuit pitting 64,613 software engineers against Google, Apple, Intel and Adobe. The engineers say they lost up to $3 billion in wages from 2005-9, when the companies colluded in a scheme not to solicit one another’s employees.

When wage theft against low-wage workers is combined with that against highly paid workers, a bad problem becomes much worse.

Read more:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/22/opinion/wage-theft-across-the-board.html?_r=0

 

"Ink Master" hosts accused of harassing producer

MSNBC, 3/29/14: A former production assistant on the reality television show Ink Master [produced by Original Media] accuses her former employers of engaging in “severe and pervasive” sexual harassment, according to a legal complaint filed earlier this month.

The filing, which was submitted to a federal district court in New York, claims the two hosts of the Spike TV show (including Oliver Peck, pictured) would routinely make unwelcome sexual advances and engage in “non-consensual, unwelcome, and inappropriate touching.”

“From what we’ve been told by our client, we believe this is not an isolated incident,” said Kenneth Katz, an attorney for the plaintiff, 25-year-old Nicoletta Robinson.

Read more:  http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/the-underbelly-reality-tv

 

 

NY Prodco Execs Featured in THR Top 25 Reality Players

Brent Montgomery, Leftfield:  The envy of many of his peers, Montgomery's Pawn Stars still averages more than 5.7 million viewers after five years and 288 episodes on History. More impressive, the look at a Las Vegas barter business inspired its own subgenre. 

Charlie Corwin, Endemol North America, Original Media: Public figure whose life merits a docuseries:Courtney Love

Read more:  http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/lists/top-25-reality-players-2014-692806

 

 

ITV's CEO earns almost double the average exec pay

3/24/14, Henry Mance, Financial Times:  ITV’s CEO, Adam Crozier, received £8.4 million pay last year, making his turnaround of the broadcaster one of the most lucrative jobs on the FTSE 100.

Nearly half the sum came from a one-off share entitlement that Mr Crozier agreed when he took over in April 2010...

Concern over executive pay peaked in 2012 in the UK, with protests by shareholders at a number of blue-chip companies.

On average, FTSE 100 chief executives were paid £4.3m that year, according to the High Pay Centre, a lobby group. That figure is equivalent to earning the average annual UK salary every three days.


Tell Cesar Millan to be a "pack leader" and stick up for ITV producers

3/7/14: Just this week, ITV Studios, the company that produces Cesar Millan’s new show Cesar 911 for National Geographic Wild, reported that in 2013 they posted a 27% increase in profits. ITV Studios says it expects to continue raking in more profits in 2014, even as they look to expand through acquisitions.

ITV's profits are fueled by the the average $30,000 per year of unpaid overtime from each freelance producer they employ.

ITV isn't the only violator, but as one of the more successful and profitable production companies in New York, and one where freelancers have chosen to unionize, they should be setting a good example for the rest of the industry to follow.

Cesar Millan can help by standing up for the legal rights of his producers and associate producers to be paid overtime. Let him know that you’d like to see him stand up for what’s right.

Click on this link to loan your Twitter or your Facebook feed this Friday for a Thunderclap action. Join with hundreds of other union members, writers, producers and supporters as we take to social media during the premier of ITV’s new show, Cesar 911, and ask Cesar Millan to support the men and women who make his show!

And join us Friday night at 9:00 PM on Twitter to tweet support for ITV producers on the #cesar911 hashtag.         

    

ITV posts huge profits. Do they owe you $30,000?

3/3/14:  ITV reported last week that in 2013 they posted a huge 27% increase in profits. They say they expect the profits to keep coming in 2014, even as they look to expand through acquisitions.

Meanwhile, they recently told many of the freelance production staff at ITV Studios America (who are represented by the WGAE) that they will start paying overtime after 40 hours a week. For many years, ITV's practice has been not to pay overtime at all.

Based on our research, ITV has been able to keep an average of $30,000 per year for each freelance producer they employ, by not paying overtime.

If you've worked at ITV in the past six years and you weren't paid any overtime, get in touch. While ITV certainly owes you some thanks for your contribution to their success, they might also owe you money!

More info:

ITV Reports 2013 Revenue Growth, Eyes Acquisitions (Realscreen)

WGA East Accuses ITV Of Not Paying Overtime (Hollywood Reporter)

WGA Slams ITV For Not Paying Overtime, Stalled Talks (Deadline Hollywood)

 

 

WGAE Delivers Petitions To MSNBC About Counting Votes At Peacock

Photos by Jenna Cole  2/20/14: Workers at Comcast / NBCU owned Peacock Productions  delivered more than 10,000 petition signatures to MSNBC’s primetime hosts today, urging them to speak out against the company’s anti-worker tactics.

The five MSNBC anchors are Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O’Donnell, Al Sharpton, Ed Schultz and Chris Hayes.

You can still add your voice.  Please click here to send an email to the hosts, asking them to support Peacock workers.

 "MSNBC’s anchors are fearless advocates for our nation’s working-class families—night after night, they stand up to corporate greed, corruption, and wrongdoing. It is essential that they hear what people employed by the same corporation have to say about their own workplace struggles," said Lowell Peterson, Executive Director of the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE).

The writer-producers at Peacock Productions, a subsidiary of Comcast/NBCU, have been trying to form a union for a more than a year with the WGAE.. But the corporation’s lawyers have stalled the process, and management refuses to honor the employees’ votes.

The writer-producers say Peacock’s parent company, Comcast /NBCUniversal, is trying to have it both ways–refusing to recognize their right to organize for basic protections, including minimum compensation rates, affordable health benefits, and paid time off, while at the same time, cashing in on MSNBC’s progressive programming.

In 2012, the network’s writer-producers sought the help of WGAE. In October of that year, the union filed for an NLRB election. Comcast / NBCU lawyers claimed that half of the hard-working television professionals deserved no protection at all under the National Labor Relations Act and had no right to representation --- a claim the NLRB rejected.

In June 2013 a secret ballot election was held. But because of even more legal maneuvering by the company’s attorneys, those ballots are still sitting in a box, uncounted – fully a year and a half after the process began.

WGAE says Comcast / NBCU’s flagrant abuse of the law will only get worse if it’s allowed to take over Time Warner Cable.

“Comcast / NBC has refused to recognize its employees’ right to organize for nearly two years. That is the power and danger of media conglomerates that have pockets so deep they can afford to stall and evade a basic responsibility owed to their own employees – the responsibility to honor  the results of a secret ballot vote for representation,” said Peterson.We urge the FCC to take action against this merger. To give a giant corporation like Comcast/NBCUniversal even more clout in the marketplace – and in the workplace – is simply wrong.”

 

WGAE Wins Election At Sharp

2/11/14: The WGAE announced today that it has been certified by the National Labor Relations Board to be the collective bargaining representative of the Producers, Coordinating Producers, Associate Producers and Writers employed by Sharp Entertainment, LLC. Sharp produces shows for cable television such as Doomsday Preppers, Property Wars, and Call of the Wildman. Region 2 of the National Labor Relations Board conducted a representation election by mail ballot and by in-person vote in January; ballots were counted on February 3.

"We are very pleased that the writer-producers at Sharp have voted to become part of the WGAE," said the union's Executive Director, Lowell Peterson. "They join their colleagues across the nonfiction cable TV industry who have elected the Guild as their bargaining representative and seek to build sustainable careers doing work they find meaningful and enjoyable. We anticipate entering a collective bargaining agreement with Sharp that includes the provisions we have won for writer-producers employed by other nonfiction TV production companies."

Sharp Employees Voting in Union Election

1/10/14: The industrywide campaign to raise standards in the industry may get another boost in the coming weeks.

Many former and current employees at Sharp Entertainment are voting in a union election.

Winning a union election at Sharp will put producers and APs in the best position to advance the benefits and treatment of producers and APs throughout the entire industry.  Check out this page for more information.

 

 

Cable TV Contributes More than 60% of Hollywood Profits

1/6/14: How dependent is Hollywood on cable TV networks? Thanks to ad growth and gains from carriage fee negotiations, cable network units now contribute more than 60 percent of nearly all entertainment giants' operating profits, according to a THR analysis of data from the first three quarters of 2013. (CBS Corp., which has a smaller cable portfolio, is the exception, though its growth outpaced most peers.)

Disney, led by ESPN, and Time Warner, home of HBO, recorded the highest profits from their cable nets, while NBCUniversal's cable unit saw the lowest profit growth. And a whopping 89 percent of Viacom's profit now comes from cable.

Notes analyst Matthew Harrigan, "Carriage disputes have generally not had material effect on results."

See full story here.

 

Producers and APs At Sharp Entertainment File for Union Recognition

11/26/13: In a message to co-workers, the Sharp Organizing Committee said in part:

We are happy to report that a strong majority of producers and APs working at Sharp Entertainment have now signed union cards designating the WGAE as our collective bargaining agent.

As one of the largest production companies,  Sharp Entertainment is in a position to advance the discussion about how the industry should treat producers and APs by leaps and bounds.

We risk a great deal by doing nothing and watching rates go down, production schedules get tighter, hours get longer, budgets get smaller, crews get leaner, etc.

Change will not happen here or anywhere else unless producers and APs band together across the industry.  We are proud to join with the hundreds of other non-fiction producers and writers in the campaign to organize creative workers in our industry.

Check out coverage in Variety and The Wrap

 

"Reality" TV Industry Steals $40 Mil From Writer/Producers, Study Finds

11/18/13: Congressman Jerrold Nadler and NYC Public Advocate-Elect Tish James were on hand today as the Writers Guild released a comprehensive research report on working conditions in the nonfiction TV industry.

The report found that a typical nonfiction TV producer loses $30,000 a year in overtime pay, and as a group, producers are losing at least $40 million a year.

The report detailed findings from an industry-wide survey conducted in the summer. It found widespread violations of state wage and hour laws, and a sharp increase in hours worked across the industry. The report shines a much-needed light on these issues.

"The networks and production companies that make millions of dollars in profits from reality television programs must obey the wage and hour laws, and they must respect their employees’ right to work together to build sustainable careers.  People have the right to ask for paid time off, for health benefits, for reasonable hours and pay," said Letitia James, Public Advocate-elect.

Congressman Jerrold Nadler (NY-10) said, "I call upon the companies that employ these men and women to obey all wage and hour laws, and I support efforts to enforce those laws. Production companies must join with their employees, the cable television networks, and responsible government agencies to develop industry-wide standards to make sure that employees are treated fairly and lawfully."

Here is some press coverage of the study:

NY Daily News article

Salon article

Variety article

The Wrap article

Epoch Times article

Capital New York article

 Labor Press article