AFL-CIO backs WGAE on reality push

Guild wants Atlas Media to provide health care

AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka is lending support to efforts by the Writers Guild of America East to pressure reality TV producer Atlas Media to provide health-care coverage to guild-covered writers and producers.

Trumka spoke at a guild rally Friday at Atlas’ midtown Manhattan offices. The WGA began negotiations last August with Atlas, which produces such shows as “Hotel Impossible” for Travel Channel.

“These writers and producers are doing what workers have always done,” Trumka said. “They’re doing a great job in the TV industry, and now they’re joining together in a union to turn these jobs into great jobs with health care.”

Trumka noted that the event drew reps from the WGA East, SAG-AFTRA, the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and the United Food and Commercial Workers.

“These are issues that concern the entire labor movement because the workers in reality TV are working incredibly long hours and being treated like second-class citizens,” Trumka told Variety.

Atlas responded to the event by issuing a statement: “For 14 years, Atlas Media has been one of the few indie nonfiction production companies to actually offer health care and 401k benefits to its employees. We also continue to search for creative ways to address an industrywide dilemma: how to bring health care access to temporary freelance workers.”

WGA East exec director Lowell Peterson told Variety that negotiations with Atlas will resume Monday with health-care issues remaining the toughest issue in the talks.

In addition to Atlas, the WGA East has unionized reality producers ITV Studios, Lion TV and Optomem in a push that began more than a year ago. It’s also negotiating with Lion and Optomem while ITV has appealed the unionization election results to the National Labor Relations Board.

The drive has mostly targeting shows produced in New York City, with a focus on the issues of scribes working unpaid overtime and without employer-provided health-care benefits.

“If you consider a workplace fraught with violations of wage and hour laws, long hours, unfair pay and zero benefits a sweatshop, then any number of reality television production companies in New York City fit that bill,” Peterson said Friday. “Nonfiction basic cable is almost entirely non-union, and it shows, but it will change as the WGAE continues to organize and bargain on behalf of writers and producers in this part of the industry. Creative professionals understand the importance of banding together to make their work lives better.”

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