EXCLUSIVE: Some members of the Survivor crew want a vote – and we’re not talking about staying on any island. Representing about two dozen editors, the Motion Picture Editors Guild today told Mark Burnett and his Island Post Productions that they want a union contract. “The union requests negotiations with you with respect to pay, wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment,” says the 1-page letter from National Executive Director Ron Kutak of IATSE Local 700 to Post Producer John Heard. At present, the demand is for immediate negotiations and the editors and assistants are still on the job. However, with just over a month before the recently announced expanded September 24 debut of Season 29 of the reality show the move by the Santa Monica-based post crew could shuttle the beginning of Survivor: San Juan del Sur if this escalates to a walk-out or further labor action, I’ve learned. “The premiere episode isn’t even done yet,” a source close to the editing action told me. “With the plan of a 90-minute opener and the team still going through footage, any delay of more than a few days would be very hard on the schedule.” Like fellow Burnett production shows Shark Tank and NBC’s The Voice, which do have IATSE contracts, the Survivor employees want an agreement that includes industry-standard health insurance and pension benefits.
While there are no explicit indications of labor action in today’s short correspondence from Kutak, the plan I’ve learned is to give Burnett’s company a brief opportunity to respond before taking things further. That opportunity is based on the long long relationship the editors have had with Survivor with some of them having worked on the CBS series since its debut 14 years ago. In fact a number of the editors in question are actually nominated in this year’s Creative Arts Emmy Awards, which is scheduled for the 16 of August at the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live. Frederick Hawthrone, Joubin Mortazavi, Evan Mediuch, Dave Armstrong, Andrew Bolhuis and Tim Atzinger are all up for Outstanding Picture Editing For Reality Programming.
The Emmys may not play a role in today’s move by the Editor’s Guild but the timing of the latest Survivor season premiere certainly does if you look at past postproduction labor actions. As a part of their on-going efforts to unionize unscripted TV, the 7,300 strong Editor’s Guild shut down NBC’s reboot of Last Comic Standing this April. That action also came about a month before the show was set to debut. After a 1-day walkout and picketing, LCS’s producers agreed to a contract for their approximately 15-member postproduction staff. Last November, the IATSE Local secured a contract for post-staff on Discovery Channel‘s Naked & Afraid after a 1-week work stoppage against producers Renegade 83 just 3-weeks before N&A’s December 6 premiere.