WGA showcasing reality TV workers

Guild is holding news conference on Tuesday

Continuing its efforts to organize reality shows, the WGA is holding a news conference today to showcase workers from several high-profile skeins who are filing claims against producers for unpaid overtime and penalties.

The guild scheduled the event for 11 a.m. outside the Van Nuys office of the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement. Workers from “American Idol,” “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?,” “So You Think You Can Dance,” “Gene Simmons’ Family Jewels,” “Amazing Race” “On the Lot” and “American Inventor” also were scheduled to appear.

The WGA said the claims and penalties could total more than $500,000.

In the past, producers of reality shows have denied that they’re violating state laws. “Idol” is produced by FremantleMedia; “Dance” is produced by 19 Entertainment and Dick Clark Prods.; “Family Jewels” is produced by the Grief Co. for A&E; “Smarter” is from Mark Burnett; “On the Lot” is from Burnett and DreamWorks; and “Race” is from ABC Studios/Bruckheimer/Bertram van Munster.

The guild’s been attempting to organize the reality sector for the past three years but hasn’t yet succeeded. Its leaders demanded jurisdiction over reality as part of the WGA’s contentious negotiations with the majors, then dropped that demand three months into the strike in a move that helped pave the way for the eventual deal that ended the work stoppage.

In November, a study commissioned by the WGA alleged reality producers routinely violated California wage and hour laws by denying overtime and meal breaks, and by failing to maintain accurate records. The Goodwin Simon Victoria Research survey of more than 300 reality TV writers found that reality production companies and payroll companies routinely and improperly classified writers as exempt from state and federal overtime pay requirements, allegedly depriving them of at least $30 million a year.

The study also found 91% of reality TV writers received no overtime pay; 88% worked more than 40 hours per week; writers worked 16 hours of unpaid overtime per week; 86% were not offered health insurance; 73% worked through their meal break at least once a week; and 59% said their timecards never accurately reflected hours they worked.

In 2005, the WGA West filed suits seeking class-action status against several reality TV production companies and broadcast networks for wage and hour violations. It’s also helped writers file nearly two dozen labor complaints with the state against various reality TV producers.

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