Effort to unionize 10 shows meets with resistance

The Writers Guild of America West has launched a drive to unionize the writers at 10 shows at Comcast Entertainment Group, but the effort has been rebuffed by Comcast.

The WGA said that more than 80% of the writers on the shows have signed union authorization cards, seeking recognition of the guild as their bargaining agent. The skeins include “Attack of the Show,” “Chelsea Lately,” “E! News,” “E! Specials,” “Fashion Police,” “G4 Specials,” “The Dish,” “The Soup,” “Web Soup” and “X-Play.”

Comcast responded Thursday by asserting that it would not give recognition to the WGA unless it filed a petition for a secret ballot election with the National Labor Relations Board.

The labor scuffle comes at a sensitive time for Comcast as it awaits federal approval of its merger with NBC Universal.

“We believe that our employees need to exercise their right to vote on a matter as important to them as union representation,” said Comcast senior VP Kathy Mandato. “Therefore, today we advised the WGA that we are not willing to instantly recognize them. We want employees to learn all the facts about union representation before voting as to whether or not they want to be part of a union.”

WGA West exec director David Young responded by blasting Comcast Entertainment Group, saying that the writers who signed authorization cards had hoped Comcast would behave in an “honorable” manner and agree to their desire for union representation without delay rather than insisting on an NLRB election.

“NLRB elections are usually banana republic affairs that are held after a period of delay that employers use to terrorize workers and threaten their jobs,” Young said in a statement. “Such elections make a mockery of free choice. Comcast has consistently proven in their dealings with unions nationally that they embrace this model of intimidation.”

Young said Comcast’s track record with unions is one of many reasons why Comcast’s merger with NBC Universal should be opposed.

“The WGAW objects to Comcast’s attempt to intimidate their writers and will stand with these writers in their fight for fair wages and benefits for their families,” he added.

Mandato said that Comcast Entertainment plans to reach out to those who would be part of the units that the WGA wants to represent.

“We will discuss how a unionized environment may affect you,” she said. “We believe that after hearing both sides, and understanding all the facts, you will decide that it is in your best interest to continue to maintain your current relationship with your supervisor and management team.”

The WGA has managed to organize writers at some new media employers since the 2007-08 strike settlement, which expanded the guild’s jurisdiction. It has signed deals with Internet writers at CBS and dozens of made-for-Web series along with the Comedy Central shows and writers at Tyler Perry Studios.

The guild has been less successful at organizing reality and animation — two of the strike demands that stayed on the table until a few weeks before the strike ended.

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