Guild labors for improved 'Idol'

In its first major post-strike campaign, the Writers Guild of America has completed a monthlong push to organize reality shows by targeting allegedly unfair working conditions on “American Idol.”

The WGA ended its five-city Truth Tour with a Tuesday afternoon rally and news conference at FremantleMedia’s Gotham HQ. The event, which drew 150 supporters, was skedded to unfold as “American Idol” auditions for next season were being held at the Meadowlands in New Jersey.

“Reality is not what Fremantle puts up on the screen,” said WGA East prexy Michael Winship. “Reality is the way it mistreats and underpays its employees.”

FremantleMedia had no comment Tuesday, but its execs have said the allegations, which include denial of overtime pay and meal breaks, are without merit. The execs have also said the WGA’s jurisdiction demand is unreasonable because Fremantle doesn’t use writers on all shows — an assertion disputed by the guild.

Justin Buckles, a former “Idol” production assistant, told the crowd at the rally that he had been told when he was hired to expect to work 12-hour days but subsequently found he was working 15- to 20-hour days and many times worked seven days a week — for a flat weekly rate of $550. Buckles, who estimated he was paid an hourly rate of less than $4.50, was one of eight ex-Fremantle employees who filed more than $250,000 in wage and hour claims with the state of California in April.

The WGA also disclosed Tuesday that Michael Prescott, a former writer on Fremantle-produced “Temptation,” has been awarded $14,000 in overtime wages and penalties by the California state labor commissioner.

The Truth Tour, organized with the Teamsters, kicked off with a July 16 rally at WGA West headquarters and staged events to coincide with “Idol” auditions in San Francisco, Phoenix, San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Jacksonville, Fla.

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