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HomeNewsReality Editors Try to Organize Under WGA

Reality Editors Try to Organize Under WGA

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“Reality TV is a 21st century telecommunications industry sweatshop,” charged Daniel Petrie, president of the Writer’s Guild of America West.He said his organization was determined to get labor contracts not just for the writers, but also the producers and editors who work on the primarily nonunion reality shows.The aim of a union contract would be to have a minimum wage scale, health and pension benefits and some rules on working conditions. About 1,000 of 1,300 reality show workers who fall into these categories have signed authorization cards requesting a union, with an estimated 250 of them editors.Petrie even broached the possibility of going to the mat on the issue by calling an industrywide strike. “A strike is possible,” Petrie told Below the Line. “It’s not part of our strategy to prematurely threaten things. And it shouldn’t get that far, but it’s possible. This is not simply saber-rattling.”Another shoe dropped as Below the Line was going to press. A dozen reality show writers, backed by the WGA West, filed a class-action suit on July 7 in California Superior Court charging eight television networks and production companies with gross violations of the state’s labor laws with regard to paying overtime, wages and meal periods.According to the suit’s allegations, the 12 writers were required to falsify their time cards. It also charged that the employees worked far more than 40 hours almost every week they were employed but never got any premium overtime pay.Nicholas Counter, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, declined to comment.“The entertainment industry established basic decent working conditions and compensation standards decades ago,” said Petrie, adding “what is happening here harkens back to the conditions of in the early 20th century.” Petrie said the companies “falsified the hour rates on their pay stubs to reflect the overtime had been paid when it hadn’t. To add insult to injury, they refused to give meal periods to writers when they were working 10-, 12-, or 20-hour days, six or seven days a week.The move by editors on reality shows to go to the screenwriter’s guild to represent them has stirred some resentment at The Motion Picture Editors Guild. “Editors belong in the Editors Guild,” said Tris Carpenter, national organizer for Local 700. “There’s a very long record of success we’ve had with the IATSE organizing reality shows.”Carpenter pointed to the two Queer Eye shows, Big Brother and Who’s Your Daddy? He indicated the editors guild was continuing its efforts on high-rated reality shows.He also pointed to some lower-budget shows where there was success: Trauma: Life in the ER, Moving In, Blind Date, Code Blue, World Poker Tour and Endurance.“We’ve actually organized reality shows—we’ve done real things that have gotten real benefits,” said Carpenter. “The Writer’s Guild has not organized a single reality television show.”“We have been in touch with the editor’s guild,” responded Petrie. “They prefer their own way of organizing. We feel it is much better to approach it on an industrywide basis.”“It’s perfectly appropriate to include editors,” he added. “Reality television is different than traditional editing or traditional writing. These are storytellers whether they are crafting stories with an Avid or a pen.”

Written by Jack Egan

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