The Writers Guild of America East and NBC’s documentary-reality operation Peacock Prods. have been battling since last year over the guild’s attempt to unionize about 100 freelance producers and associate producers.
In the latest development, the National Labor Relations Board has impounded ballots from the June 14 election held to determine whether the producers would be represented by the WGA East. The ballots remain uncounted due to NBC filing an appeal to a recent NLRB ruling, which rejected the network’s assertion that Peacock producers are “supervisors” and are therefore ineligible to vote.
WGA East exec director Lowell Peterson told Variety that he is frustrated with the situation and that the network is violating the employees’ rights to select the guild as a collective bargaining representative.
“This is NBC,” he said. “We have bargaining relationships with NBC in comedies and drama. It’s mind-boggling that they’ve decided to knock the Writers Guild out of the box.”
A spokeswoman for Peacock Prods. said the ballots were impounded because the NLRB was willing to review its earlier decision.
“Prior to Friday’s vote, we asked the NLRB to review the regional director’s decision regarding the supervisory status of Peacock’s freelance producers,” she said. “The NLRB granted us a review. As is part of the normal process, the votes were impounded by the NLRB until a decision is made. We believe that Peacock’s producers hold meaningful supervisory authority, which according to Federal Labor Law, excludes them from voting. While the initial decision did not support that belief, a higher authority in the board thinks there’s reason to re-examine that decision.”
Peacock organizers wrote in an email to staffers following the thwarted election: “For all producers and several associate producers, Peacock is still trying to keep your vote from counting – and even from being counted.”
Peacock Prods. delivers a range of programming for broadcast, cable and digital networks, including USA, Weather Channel, MSNBC, Discovery Networks and others. Series include “Storm Stories,” “True Crime with Aphrodite Jones,” “Storm Riders” and “Vegas Raw.”
The WGA East sought the election in October after a majority of the 100 freelance producers and associate producers at Peacock Prods. signed cards designating the WGA as their collecting bargaining agent. “The main goal of this campaign is to organize a union across the industry, at many production companies, so that freelance non-fiction producers can define a minimum standard for compensation and benefit levels for the work we do,” the organizing committee of Peacock producers wrote in a letter after the cards were signed.
“They have taken a position that more than half of the unit isn’t entitled to any protection under the law, which is crazy,” Peterson said. “Delay is a way to try to dissipate support, which is an offensive tactic, but common tactic. NBC is trying to delay the vote – and it could be for a very long time because the NLRB seems to be hobbled over the confirmation of board members. It’s a cynical move on the company’s part to put this off for potentially months and months.”
The battle is significant for the WGA, which has been trying to organize non-fiction production companies for years.
The WGA East reached three-year master contract agreements in July 2012 with Lion Television and Optomen Prods. Compared to the writers in film and in scripted television represented by the WGA, creative workers in the non-fiction TV earn comparatively low weekly wages, and have no provisions for overtime and no health benefits.
“People in the industry say they have been trying to make a living in this fairly prosperous part of TV production,” Peterson said. “In the long run, employers are shortsighted to fight us. We make it possible for people to build more stable careers, which is actually in the employers’ interest, but they don’t see it that way.”
The WGA East saw a setback earlier this year at Atlas Media, where the employees voted to de-certify the guild as its bargaining rep. The NLRB dismissed charges leveled at Atlas by the guild, which claimed that Atlas had intimidated employees.
Peterson said the WGA does not plan to file an unfair labor practices charge against NBC over the Peacock unionization effort.
“Just open the ballots,” he said. “If we won a majority, which we think we did, let’s bargain. I’m confident we’ll prevail.”