UPDATE, 12:40 PM: Real Housewives and Pawn Stars producer Leftfield Entertainment and its new owner ITV Studios have been asked to testify at hearings this month before the New York City Council to provide evidence of their employees’ working conditions. The June 25 hearings are dubbed “The Real Reality of Reality TV” and will examine “the prevalence of long work hours, wage theft and overtime violations, the absence of health benefits, the lack of paid time off, and the health and safety concerns of producers and associate producers working under dangerous conditions,” NYC Councilman I. Daneek Miller said in letters to the production companies obtained by Deadline. (Read the letter to ITV here.)
ITV’s deal in May to acquire 80% of Leftfield for $360 million made ITV Studios US Group the largest independent unscripted producer in the States, the company said at the time. In Miller’s letter, he asked ITV to “describe how your recent purchases of other nonfiction production companies in NYC affect the working conditions of your writer-producers and other freelance employees.”
The City Council’s agenda for the hearings reads like the litany of accusations the WGA East has already made against ITV, which the guild has been trying to organize for the last four years. The guild has accused ITV of “stealing” an average of $30,000 a year from its writer-producers through what the guild calls “wage theft” — not paying overtime and for all hours worked. “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,” Miller said in identical letters to each of the companies. Whether they will get a fair hearing may be a matter of some concern to the companies, as Councilman Corey Johnson recently accused ITV of “working their people to the breaking point and then kicking them to the curb.”
ITV’s U.S. reality content includes shows like Kitchen Nightmares for Fox, The Good Witch for the Hallmark Channel and Four Weddings for TLC.
PREVIOUS, MONDAY PM: The New York City Council will hold public hearings June 25 to explore allegations of “sweatshop” working conditions at reality TV shows shot in the city. The overwhelming majority of nonfiction shows shot there are nonunion, with many workers complaining about long hours without overtime pay and no health benefits. Lowell Peterson, executive director of WGA East, will be among those called to testify about what he calls “sweatshop” working conditions at the city’s nonfiction TV production companies. “There will be witnesses about wage violations and the lack of health benefits,” he told Deadline today.
The guild has been organizing reality show writers and producers in New York for the last five years. So far, it’s signed contracts with three of the more than 20 major companies there that each employ more than 50 writer-producers. “We’re making real progress, and the city council and the mayor are very interested in improving working conditions,” Peterson said.
The National Labor Relations Board is currently overseeing a vote to determine if some 100 writer-producers at Original Media want to be represented by WGA East. Ballots will be counted in the second week of July, and if the guild wins the certification election, it will be entitled to begin collective bargaining with the company, which produces such shows as Ink Master, BBQ Pitmasters, American Grilled, Dual Survival and Comic Book Men. Even if the WGA wins the vote, however, it could still take years for the guild to get the company to the bargaining table, as was the case with ITV, producers of A&E’s The First 48 and TLC’s Four Weddings. The guild won an NLRB-supervised representational election there in 2010, but ITV’s appeals dragged on for nearly two years, and the company still hasn’t come to terms with the guild for a contract.
Similarly, the guild held a certification vote a year ago among the writer-producers at NBCUniversal’s Peacock Productions, but those ballots haven’t even been counted because of challenges lodged by the company, which produces such shows as Beyond The Headlines for Lifetime and a wide range of other reality programming.
Noting that reality TV shows are “a growing part of the television industry in New York,” Peterson said, “We’re paying a lot of attention to it.”
Out on the West Coast, the WGA West is going about organizing reality shows more quietly. Shows it’s organized include Unusual Suspects and Hollywood And Crime for Investigation Discovery, and Crown Chasers for TLC. “If there are folks here in reality who are ready to organize, we’re always ready to talk to them,” said WGA West spokesman Neal Sacharow.
The DGA, meanwhile, has contracts with producers of more than 900 reality shows, including The Amazing Race, Big Brother, The Biggest Loser, Extreme Makeover, MasterChef, 16 And Pregnant, and Project Runway.