Profits may be up 20% at its UK parent company, but ITV Studios America today found its relationship with the Writers Guild of America East taking a steep fall. As contract talks between the two parties grind on, the scribe guild claims that ITV Studios America has been depriving about 150 of its writers and producers of up to $30,000 a year in deserved overtime pay on its unscripted shows including A&E’s The First 48, Nat Geo Wild’s Cesar 911 and TLC’s Four Weddings. The WGA East says that up until two weeks ago, the Sherman Oaks- and NYC-based company has been making employees put in 60- to 80-hour weeks without any of the compensation that are entitled to under federal and state laws. Under pressure from the guild, the company began giving associate producers overtime pay two weeks ago and not retroactively. That’s only a partial solution, says the WGA East. “Companies like ITV simply cannot insist that employees devote every waking moment to the company, month in and month out,” said WGAE Executive Director Lowell Peterson today. The situation at ITV Studios America comes as the WGA is taking a short break from its sometime-tense negotiations with the studios and the networks over a new 3-year contract.
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Calling striking Fashion Police scribes “schmuck writers” and “idiots”, Joan Rivers is back in hot water with the Writers Guild of America East. “Her latest statement egregiously violates the spirit of the rest of the settlement,” said Michael Winship, President of the WGA East today (see his full statement below). “We are exploring all options.” Rivers made the comments in an interview last week with comedy site, Splitsider. In contrast to her pro-guild stance of just over a month ago after the comedian and long time Guild member avoided an October 14 disciplinary hearing in NYC to determine whether the E! host had violated the union’s rules by writing and performing showrunner duties for the show during the strike, Rivers now appears to have changed sides. “E! is right. They wanted writers to take a vote before they went out and decided to strike and the WGA wanted them to negotiate to not take a vote,” she said in the online interview.
Fashion Police writers have been on strike since April seeking more than $1 million in back wages and overtime. They are backed by the WGA in their fight. After risking being possibly being kicked out of the WGA East, Rivers’ took a very different tone on the writers’ situation last month. “As part of the resolution of the Charges, Ms. Rivers has agreed not to write during the strike and to meet with E! … Read More »
Over a month ago, Joan Rivers called the upcoming Writers Guild of America East trial board hearing over her role on Fashion Police, “a bunch of bullshit.” Next month, the veteran comedienne and longtime WGA member will find out if that’s true or if she’s being shown the union door – or both. The WGA East has set an October 14 meeting in its NYC offices for Rivers and the three-judge panel. The hearing will seek to determine if the E! host “violated the union’s rules by writing and by performing showrunner duties for the E! Network show Fashion Police. WGA members are not permitted under union rules to work on non-union shows. The result of that hearing, which will go to the WGA East council for final affirmation or rejection, could see Rivers tossed out of the Guild – the first member of the WGA East ever to suffer such a fate. The WGA East first announced back on July 10 that it was taking the first steps in the disciplinary measure. Former writers for the E! Entertainment show have been out on strike since mid-April for over $1 million in back wages and overtime. Both Rivers’ management and E! have said repeatedly that Rivers played no part in the situation in dispute on Fashion Police. Now the WGA East will try to figure out if they were telling the truth or not.
2ND UPDATE, 10:08 AM: The blame game continues in the stalled Peacock Productions unionization election. First more than 40 writers sent a protest letter to NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke on WGA East letterhead on Monday (see below). They were upset over the fact that a National Labor Relations appeal by the company of a vote by Peacock freelancers on June 14 have not yet been counted and ballots impounded. Then today NBCU said they didn’t impound anything, it was the NLRB as a part of the appeal procedure and out of their hands. Now WGA East Executive Director Lowell Peterson has sent me a new statement annoyed at what he sees as NBCU’s sophistry. “Sad to see NBCU indulge in corporate double talk. The issue is simple, NBCU executives have the power to unblock the vote and let the ballots be counted. We call on them again to do so and allow the writer-producers to make their own decision about representation. That’s democracy at work,” said Peterson. The thing is in all this jockeying for position, both sides are right. NBCU could asked the NLRB to have their appeal halted so the votes could be counted. However, they didn’t actually stop the votes from being counted or had the ballots impounded, that was done by the NLRB. And, if anyone is asking, they are still investigating the case, sources tell me.
UPDATE, 8:25 AM: NBCUniversal‘s Peacock Productions says it didn’t ask to have any votes impounded in a union election — the National Labor Relations Board did. After a public letter Monday to NBCU chief Steve Burke from dozens of NBC writers (see below) on the dispute over some freelancers at Peacock seeking to join WGA East, the company sent me its own statement today on the matter:
Prior to the June 14 vote, we asked the NLRB to review the Regional Director’s decision regarding the supervisory status of Peacock’s freelance producers. The NLRB granted us a review. As is part of the normal process, the votes were impounded by the NLRB until a decision is made. We are still waiting for the NLRB to render their decision, which is why no votes have been counted.
We believe that Peacock’s producers hold meaningful supervisory authority, which according to Federal Labor Law, excludes them from voting. The Board decided to review the Regional Director’s decision and is currently in the process of doing so.
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The Writers Guild East has announced the results of its 2011 elections, notable not so much for the lack of competition (the main incumbents ran unopposed) but for being the first to institute online voting, which the guild said resulted in higher participation and no invalidated ballots. WGAE president Michael Winship ran unopposed and was re-elected; Jeremy Pikser was elected VP and replaces Bob Schneider, who was elected Secretary Treasurer succeeding Gail Lee. Henry Bean, Bonnie Datt, Elliot Kalan, Susan Kim, Bernardo Ruiz, and Courtney Simon were voted in as freelance members to the WGAE Council, while Sue Brown McCann, Phil Pilato, and Duane Tollison were elected to staff seats. The terms run through September 2013.
The National Labor Relations Board has issued a formal complaint against ITV Studios, the company behind such TV series as The First 48 and Four Weddings, charging that it wrongfully terminated a longtime producer for his support of the WGA East’s efforts to organize its employees. A hearing on the matter is expected sometime in July. “We are pleased the NLRB is pursuing this case. No one should be fired for supporting a union and seeking a voice on the job,” WGAE executive director Lowell Peterson said. “While the NLRB’s decision is good news, ITV continues to ignore its employees’ vote for guild representation. We urge ITV to reinstate the employee and to come to the bargaining table so we can negotiate a fair and equitable contract for all the employees who do the work that makes the company successful.” Employees at ITV Studios voted in December to join the WGAE as part of the union’s push to organize nonfiction TV writers; the vote, involving about 80 writers, has yet to be certified. The NLRB conducted a three-month investigation before filing its complaint. The board previously sided with the union in cases against Atlas Media (Biography) and Lion Television (Cash Cab).
Lion Television, the production company behind Discovery’s Cash Cab, MTV’s Megadrive and PBS’ History Detectives and America Revealed, has agreed to recognize the WGA East as the collective bargaining rep for its writers, producers and researchers, a group of about 100 staffers. It’s the latest pickup for the guild, which has been trying to bring employees at non-fiction basic cable production companies under its umbrella. The Lion TV staff voted for representation in December, and the National Labor Relations Board has certified the results. “We welcome the Lion employees into our creative community, where they will join thousands of other members who do some of the best work in television, film, radio, and digital,” WGAE executive director Lowell Peterson said. “We are pleased that Lion respects their decision to become part of the Writers Guild and we look forward to a long and productive relationship.”