This morning, a dozen workers from some of TV’s top reality shows, including American Idol, Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?, and American Inventor, gathered at the Van Nuys office of the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) to file 21 claims alleging that the producers of these shows owe them unpaid overtime and penalties that could total over $500,000. (See WGA photos from the scene…) The majority of the workers filing had worked for FremantleMedia, the international conglomerate and reality TV hit factory that the WGA rallied against during the strike. A meeting between the claimants and the companies will be scheduled by the DLSE to determine if each case will receive an official hearing. “Hopefully the bravery of these people who have taken a stand today will encourage more reality TV workers to come forward and call attention to practices that the entertainment industry can no longer ignore,” said Paul Nawrocki, Assistant Executive Director of the Writers Guild of America, West.
According to “Harsh Reality”, a study released last fall by the Writers Guild of America, West, reality TV workers report widespread violations of wage and hour laws, including the failure of production companies to pay overtime, provide meal breaks and maintain accurate payroll records. The study found that 88% of reality writers work more than 40 hours a week, yet 91% receive no overtime pay. The study also revealed that 73% of respondents work through their meal break at least once a week. Most of the workers polled did not receive any form of health care or pension benefits. Yet analysts estimate that American Idol has earned over $200 million in profits for the Fox broadcast network. “Despite the huge profits made by the companies that produce these shows, many of the workers – including writers, production assistants, contestant coordinators, craft services, and office workers – work long hours without receiving overtime compensation or being allowed to take proper breaks,” said a statement by the WGA, which organized a protest outside the DLSE office in Van Nuys.
The WGA organized a morning press conference with workers from hit reality TV shows American Idol, Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?, So You Think You Can Dance, Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels, Amazing Race, American Inventor, On The Lot and others. Speakers were to include: Deputy District Director Kan Matoo, representing Assemblyman Lloyd Levine (AD-40), UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education Director Sharon Delugach, Teamsters Local 399 Organizing Director Steve Dayan, and others. This was reminiscent of the WGA rally outside FremantleMedia North America to call attention to conditions for writers working on reality television programming in December. (See photo left.) The WGA made organizing Reality TV workers a major issue during the writer’s strike, as well as animation writers, but that had to be abandoned in order to clinch a final settlement with the Big Media moguls. I know that WGAW President Patric Verrone and executive director Dave Young privately rued that they couldn’t get traction on the issue. So I find it admirable that the guild is going full steam ahead on this cause.