More than 200 union members and their supporters rallied today in a park outside the gates of NBCUniversal in solidarity with striking editors on Bravo’s reality series Shahs Of Sunset. Fourteen of the show’s production and postproduction workers were fired last month after they walked off the job in a strike to obtain a union contract, health benefits and representation by IATSE Editors Guild Local 700.
Federal labor law prohibits the firing of workers engaged in protected union activity, including strikes. When a strike is over, the strikers have to be offered their jobs back. Bravo, however, tried to outflank the law by pushing aside the show’s production company, Ryan Seacrest Productions, and taking control of the show itself. That allowed the cable network to act as if the strikers hadn’t been their employees at all when they walked off the job and therefore was under no obligation to rehire them.
For IATSE, it’s a do-or-die showdown that pits the right of workers to strike against Hollywood’s corporate veil. If federal labor laws can be skirted simply by shuffling the deck and coming up with a new corporate boss to hire replacement workers every time there’s a strike, the union’s ongoing campaign to unionize the reality TV industry could be dealt a devastating blow. To make sure that doesn’t happen, IATSE has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, accusing Bravo and Ryan Seacrest Productions of unfair labor practices, including retaliation.
“This fight is bigger than the fight over the Shahs Of Sunset,” IATSE International VP Mike Miller told Deadline. “This is about dignity in the workplace. This is about health care. This is about a worker’s right to organize. This is about basic human dignity.”
Speaker after speaker criticized Bravo for its heavy-handed approach to what had started out as a relatively minor labor dispute: 14 workers on an obscure cable show wanting to be represented by a union. A petition circulating at the rally called on Stephen Burke, President and CEO of Bravo parent NBCUniversal, to “act immediately to reverse its subsidiary’s shameless attempt at union-busting” and to “reinstate the fired Shahs Of Sunset crew and enter into good-faith negotiations with their union.”