After a seven-year battle, writer-producers at Peacock Productions finally have their first contract with the Comcast/NBCUniversal nonfiction TV production arm. The new pact, which covers 40 writer-producers, was ratified unanimously, and includes what the guild is calling a “landmark” agreement to establish a portable, industrywide nonfiction television healthcare plan.
“Nonfiction television writer-producers move from company to company as their shows wrap,” said WGA East executive director Lowell Peterson. “Some producers make health benefits, but those benefits don’t mean much to freelance employees as it takes too long to qualify, the benefits aren’t worth the out-of-pocket cost, and employer-paid coverage terminates when the employee moves on. By contrast, if an employer pays contributions to the Entertainment Industry Flex Plan on behalf of a WGAE member, those contributions remain at the Flex Plan even if the employee changes jobs. The money can still be used to buy Flex Plan insurance or cover eligible benefits. As the WGAE negotiates more and more contracts that provide for employer contributions to the Flex Plan, health benefits in nonfiction television will become truly portable.”
Under the new deal, Peacock has agreed to contribute fully to the Entertainment Industry Flex Plan, which enables Peacock’s associate producers and producers to obtain affordable, high-quality group health coverage and participate in the Flex Plan’s 401(k) benefit. The guild recently won Flex Plan contributions for freelancers at Vice Media, including nonfiction channel Viceland. Optomen Productions, meanwhile, has agreed to a “trigger” provision that would put that shop into the Flex Plan as well once a total of five employers sign on to the program.
The guild has been battling with Peacock since 2011, when its organizing campaign began. Writers and producers at the company voted in favor of being represented by the guild in 2013, but it took more than three years for the votes to be counted as Peacock challenged the eligibility of some producers to take part in the balloting, saying that they are “supervisory” employees who are not eligible under federal law to be represented by the guild. The NLRB impounded the ballots for three years, and finally ruled in 2016 that they could be counted. They voted 60%-40% to unionize.
“In the end, we achieved a far better contract than anyone imagined when we started,” said David Van Taylor, a former writer-producer at Peacock Productions and a member of the WGAE Nonfiction Industrywide Organizing Committee. “The long battle ultimately strengthened our resolve, our solidarity, and our power. This contract, especially with its portable health insurance, will serve as a model for making sustainable careers possible in nonfiction television.”
The new contract, which provides for yearly pay increases, also includes:
• Comp time for all WGAE members, including producers. “Nonfiction TV can be a demanding field, particularly towards the end of scheduled productions,” the guild said. “Peacock associate producers and producers who find themselves working long hours at ‘crash’ time will be entitled to paid comp time, protected by the contract. This is in addition to paid time off plus paid holidays.”
• Signing bonuses. “Because so many associate producers and producers at Peacock have enough experience to earn significantly more than an entry-level rate, the WGAE focused on how to get more pay to those above-minimum employees. We won an average signing bonus of $650.”
• Paid Time Off. “Peacock APs and producers will have eight paid time off days a year. An important precedent for freelancers in nonfiction.”