UPDATED with NBCUniversal response, 1:49 PM: The WGA East today accused NBCUniversal of “union busting” in a dispute over the shuttering of its now-defunct Peacock Productions, formerly the in-house nonfiction production wing of NBC News. The guild, which had a contract with Peacock, says that many of the unit’s former writer-producers have been reassigned to the newly created NBC News Studios, which doesn’t have a contract with the guild.
The guild, which filed an unfair labor practices (ULP) complaint last month with the National Labor Relations Board, filed another one today.
“NBC News is continuing the work of Peacock Productions under a different banner, using Peacock Productions employees,” the guild claims. “There is one key difference: the company is refusing to apply the WGAE collective bargaining agreement to any of those employees.”
“This cynical maneuver is intended to bust the union, to continue the company’s years-long effort to reject its employees’ decision to be part of the WGAE, and to bargaining collectively on critical workplace issues,” said Lowell Peterson, the guild’s executive director. “Freelance employees creating nonfiction programs must be covered by the WGAE collective bargaining agreement, which was the product of years of struggle by freelance writer-producers, and which protects their interests and reflects real gains in employment terms and conditions.”
NBCUniversal denied the allegations in issued a statement Wednesday afternoon. “We have not seen the filing yet, but based on what’s in press reports, we strongly refute what’s being alleged,” a spokesperson said. “We have, in writing, requested to meet several times with the WGA East, and they have not responded. We continue to welcome the opportunity to have a meaningful conversation with them.”
Peacock Productions, which closed down on March 2, was part of NBC News operations that created nonfiction television series for NBC and other networks. “A number of years ago,” the guild said, “the writer-producers at Peacock unionized with the WGA East. Management refused to honor the employees’ decision and spent years fighting against it at the NLRB. Ultimately, the NLRB ordered the company to recognize the WGAE as the employees’ collective bargaining representative, and negotiations ensued. In January 2019, the employees ratified their first WGAE collective bargaining agreement, which included many gains unique in the nonfiction television world, like portable health care.”
But in January 2020, Peacock notified the guild that it would no longer employ writer-producers. “Instead, the company said it would continue to produce nonfiction programs at another part of the NBC News operation, which apparently will have the name ‘NBC News Studios,’” the guild said in a statement. “The WGAE asked for clarification and details. Because the company refused to provide all of the information, last month the union had to file a ULP with the NLRB – after which the company admitted that a number of former ‘Peacock’ employees would now work at ‘NBC News Studios’ producing nonfiction programs. In fact, the guild learned that all the key leadership from ‘Peacock’ will remain at the helm of ‘NBC News Studios,’ in addition to many Peacock writer-producers.
“In response to what the guild learned from last month’s ULP, the WGAE today filed another ULP against NBC at the NLRB. As that charge states, the guild contract must be applied to the freelance producers and associate producers who are hired, and who will be hired in the future, to craft nonfiction programs at ‘NBC News Studios’ – or whatever new label the company might use to cover nonfiction television production. That’s what the writer-producers struggled for so many years to achieve, and that’s what the law requires.”