Frequently Asked Questions

Very soon you’ll have the chance to vote to join the Writers Guild of America, East. We have met with many of you already and want to share our responses to some of the common questions we’ve received from your fellow writers and producers. If you have any questions contact the WGAE at 212-767-7822.
 
What is a union contract?
Union contracts are voted on by the employees they will cover. It is a democratic process that guarantees that the contract stipulations match the needs of the employees. The Writers Guild has contracts with multiple employers and employer groups ranging from the American Motion Picture and Television Producers to PBS. Ultimately you and your fellow writers and producers will vote to accept or reject whatever contract is negotiated.

A union contract is a legal agreement between a group of employees and their employer or a group of employers. The contract holds the employer accountable to their employees and guarantees their benefits. Without a contract any benefits and pay you have are at your employers’ discretion and can be taken away at their whim. However, if you have a contract your employer is legally required to abide by it. Moreover, if an employer does not abide by the terms established in your contract you have the strength of the union behind you to step in – you don’t have to go it alone.

How are contracts negotiated?

The terms of a non-fiction contract would be negotiated between the production companies and the Non-Fiction TV Writers and Producers Bargaining Committee. This bargaining committee is comprised of the people who will be covered by the new contract—in other words, your peers. The bargaining committee is open for you to join.

The committee determines contract priorities by reviewing your surveys, holding group meetings and hearing from union organizers who hold one-on-one conversations with your peers. That collected input will determine what the top issues we want addressed in negotiations are, e.g. healthcare, paid vacation and so forth. The contract only passes when the people who would be covered by it vote for it.  We will negotiate the terms of the contract with the expert assistance of professional negotiators and legal counsel from the WGAE.

How does the WGAE healthcare plan work?
The WGAE health plan is high quality and very affordable. The plan costs the employee $0 per month for single coverage and $50 for family. It is portable, so that once you hit the earnings threshold of $33,681 in a year you have coverage for an entire year even if you change employers or are unemployed. For more details on the plan check out www.wgaplans.org. You can also call 212-767-7808 for more details. The WGA health fund currently provides thousands of freelance professionals with high quality healthcare.

Non-fiction is a low budget industry, how can production companies afford to pay for benefits?
Only through collective bargaining will we really know the truth about these budgets. We do know that the shows you create often generate millions of dollars in profits.  The only way we will actually have an informed discussion about what the companies can best afford is when we can sit across a negotiating table and they are legally obligated to engage in a real conversation.

What can the union guarantee?

We obviously cannot and do not promise anything.  However, the union has a track record of providing access to high quality healthcare and other benefits to thousands of creative professionals. If the majority of us vote yes, the Guild can guarantee that you will be able to participate in collective bargaining to try and gain those same benefits.

Does the company have to negotiate with our union?
Yes. If a majority votes to join a union, federal law will require the company to negotiate with the union in good faith. Collective bargaining is the standard practice in our industry by which companies and employees determine pay and benefits.  The AMPTP and the other employers of Guild members may prefer not to negotiate with a union—but they all do, because they are required to.

If we get benefits here will be less money for production? Will that mean fewer jobs, or an increased workload?
Why would the production company want to change a successful production formula?  It has found a successful production schedule and there would be no incentive for them to change that as it could lead to a lower quality show.  As it stands, the company can unilaterally make any changes (such as increasing edit schedules/workloads) to the production schedule without the input or voice of Producers or Post-Producers.  When you form your union the company will have to negotiate any potential changes in the production schedule with you first.  It’s in no one’s interest (production company, Producers, etc) to make changes that would harm the quality shows they create. 

Will we have to go on strike?

You would not go on strike unless non-fiction TV writers and producers as a group voted overwhelmingly to do so.  A strike or work stoppage only occurs if the employees vote to go on strike— you will make the decision, not WGA staff.  The company fears a strike as much as you, so they will try to avoid it as well.  While the WGA did strike some years back, strikes are exceedingly rare, they are the absolute last resort.

What is to stop the production company from shutting down or moving production elsewhere?

It would be illegal and it would not make sense for them to do this. First, a company cannot get out of its obligation to negotiate with a union by moving locations. Secondly, they are located here in NYC because that is where the talented labor that they need to make these shows lives.

Companies will not be able to get rid of the union by getting rid of staff.  We also won’t do anything to put the company out of business as that is against everyone’s interest. We will make sure the networks are contributing their share. 

When the company recognizes the union, all writers and producers working for them will become union members, even if they were not part of the initial struggle to unionize. Companies won’t be able to get rid of the union by getting rid of staff because the contracts cover all future employees.

Will I have to go through the WGAE staff or a shop steward every time I want to talk with my employer?
If that were true Saturday Night Live or the Evening News would NEVER air on time! When writers are in the union they still work directly with their boss. The union does not come between you and your employer because you are the union. Being in a union simply means having a binding contract with legal protections to guarantee your benefits and working conditions. If you aren’t comfortable going to your boss with an issue, the Guild is there to back you up but that’s your choice. Your shop steward (if you decide to have one) is simply a liaison between the Guild and the rest of the staff on the show—they are not in charge of you or an intermediary.

Will I still be able to negotiate my own deals?
Yes. Most WGAE members do. A collective bargaining contract allows for a floor in your pay and treatment. You can always negotiate for more. The difference will be that now you will also have a collective bargaining process to help improve standards as a group.

If I am a member of the union will union rules dictate where I work?
No. This part of the industry is largely non-union, so it does not make sense to restrict the jobs that a member can take.  Refusing non-union work is something that you as a freelancer can always chose to do, but it is not something that we can impose on you.      
   
How do dues work?   
After you have negotiated and voted on a contract, if you are working at a union company you will become a member and will only then start paying dues. Because this is a new organizing drive the Guild has decided that there will be no initiation fee for you to join.   Dues themselves are 1.5% of your earnings and $100 annually. What you would pay in dues is miniscule compared to what you would gain in terms of compensation and treatment.

Why are we organizing at this particular company?
Producers working for these production companies approached the WGAE to win healthcare, vacation and other benefits. Forming a union is not in any way a punishment for the corporation; rather it is about rewarding its employees.  As an established, profitable and often multi-national corporation they should be providing the basic healthcare and benefits that employees in the rest of the industry already earn.

For those who are not currently working at a production company where an election will be held but are still eligible to vote:

Why am I eligible to vote?
The labor board and the WGAE recognize that as a freelance employee you may not be employed by a company at all times. We also recognize that you share an interest in the working conditions and terms set by a company that you have spent some time working at, because you may return.  Therefore, you should be able to vote in an election about the working conditions and benefits at that company.   

I am not currently working at that company, how does this affect me?
A yes vote will be your way of saying that writer/producers should have a voice in decisions about compensation and benefits. Whether it is at this particular company or one of the many companies that you and others cycle through, establishing a union will send a clear message that writer/producers expect to win contracts that include employer paid portable healthcare and retirement plans. This is an industry campaign and voting yes is an important early step to establishing healthcare, benefits and a voice in your career as the norm.   

Will I have to join, pay dues and abide by union rules if we win the election?
Not if you don’t work there. The only people who will be able to join the Guild will be those working at that specific company where and when a contract is in place. As members they will also pay dues. This of course means that only those working at that company will gain the benefits of membership.  However, nothing is to prevent you from going to work at any company--union or not-- in the future. When you do become employed by a union company, you will then join the Guild and share in the benefits.