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Union Roundup

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So we’re faced with writing another UR where the main topic should be election analysis and what it all means for labor, unions, etc. Those thoughts, after all, may be the very ones running through your head as you hold this paper in your hands with a nice, early-November cup of coffee next to you.But the contradictions of deadlines and production mean we have to write this before the actual voting takes place, before we know whether the AFL-CIO’s “unprecedented” get-out-the-vote actually worked—especially in the close Senate races (Tennessee, Missouri, Virginia) that will determine control of that chamber.But since we’re also in awards season we publish more frequently and the gap between columns won’t be as long through the winter stretch—so we’ll do the Hollywood labor postmortem next time out. And hope there’s a lot less “mortem” in these results than in the previous, mysteriously accident prone election tabulations. As for the AFL-CIO, they’re not just busy getting out votes, but by way of follow up to last issue’s item about the National Labor Relations Board’s Kentucky River decision—loosening the definition of who is a “supervisor,” expanding the definition of “supervisorial” duties, and then declaring supervisors are ineligible to form unions—the august federation said it would be filing a complaint with the UN, no less; specifically with that body’s International Labor Organization.Of course, the black helicopter crowd will be relieved to know that this “committee of labor law specialists from around the world has no enforcement power,” so it’s more a bully pulpit strategy than anything else. Or perhaps a stalling tactic, if the thing can be bottled up in legal maneuvers and general bad karma for a couple of years, until that next round of Federal elections.Of course, the international labor scene can be just as colorful as the domestic one here in the US. While those above-the-liners at SAG recently picked an NFL Players Union rep to be their chief negotiator (both being professions where a handful of marquee players make most of the money, and you always have to worry about your body “giving out” on you, or just simply getting older), their counterparts in Canada were exhibiting stage-worthy melodramatics in their own negotiations, as noted by my Toronto-based colleague Scott Lehane.We refer to ACTRA—the Alliance of Canadian Television and Radio Artists. Well, okay, perhaps they’re more like the north country’s analog to AFTRA, but they are in the midst of a contract negotiation—doing it themselves, instead of hiring, say a hockey players’ rep—and initially, it wasn’t going well: “Canadian producers told revered Canadian actor Gordon Pinsent and all Canadian performers that they deserve a 25-percent pay cut, no residuals and worse working conditions,” the ACTRA press release said.The producers group—the CFPTA—unsurprisingly saw it differently and issued its own release, noting—job flight activists observe—that “the global production environment has dramatically changed over the last several years, as a direct result of technological change and increasing global competition. Canadian independent producers have never faced a more challenging marketplace than we do today… At the same time, Canada is no longer the only game in town for Hollywood producers looking for cost-effective production options.” In another statement, responding to ACTRA’s walk-out of negotiations scheduled to run through December, the producers additionally noted that “the explosion of fact-based, lifestyle and reality programming coupled with the emerging new platforms, make it necessary to rethink how we do business.” That should sound familiar south of the border, too, as Hollywood waits to see what the Writers Guild—and SAG—will do about those “emerging new platforms” in their impending contract contortions. While the idea of a “residual” on any platform is, of course, foreign to below-the-liners, the town still needs writers, directors, and actors in order to work.Well, unless we’re talking about the kind of programming a rapidly downsizing NBC wants in its first hour of primetime: reality programs and game shows. That declaration came with the announcement of impending across-the-board firings at the peacock network, a move that shouldn’t have surprised anyone given that NBC’s parent company is General Electric, a company whose previous CEO, Jack Welch, managed to turn a knack for firing lots of people at once into a cult of personality.One of Business Week’s own writers, Jon Fine, took to his blog to note that “Jeff Zucker, the CEO of NBC Universal Television Group, is under pressure from GE boss Jeffrey Immelt to revive the flailing network in the face of intense competition from the online world. If Zucker doesn’t do it quickly, he could lose his chance to succeed Bob Wright as chief of all of NBC Universal. Yet Zucker has chosen a remarkably tentative plan for turning the network around—whacking jobs and promising to rethink its prime-time lineup. Granted, it’s not tentative to those affected by the 700 jobs that are being cut (out of 14,000) or the $750 million in expense reductions. (Some of these savings will be plowed into boosting the company’s online presence.)” So we’re back to an observation made by the Canadian producers when their negotiations first stalled out: “Old labour structures just don’t work in this new environment.” But the environment must work for somebody—CEOs and large shareholders, perhaps. Then again, perhaps what Fine called the “wheezing business model” of large television and film studios is too slow to adapt—only the studio heads want to make sure they’re the last ones out the door.Everyone else—above or below the line—should be put on notice, though: The new official bargaining line you will be up against is that YouTube and Myspace are coming for your jobs.See you next column, after the votes are counted. Write Union Roundup: [email protected]

Written by Mark London Williams

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