Man vs Food

150 reality-show producers backing guild as bargaining rep

The Writers Guild of America East is moving to unionize Sharp Entertainment shows “Property Wars,” “Man v. Food” and “Doomsday Preppers.”

The WGA East reported that about 150 writers and producers are filing for a unionization election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board. A spokesman for Sharp said the company had no comment.

The announcement comes a week after the WGA East disclosed a survey alleging that writers and producers on TV’s reality shows are losing $40 million annually in unpaid overtime. The union singled out History’s “Pawn Stars,” A&E’s “The First 48,” Discovery’s “Fatal Encounters” and National Geographic “Doomsday Preppers” as violators.

The guild also released its organizing committee’s open letter to colleagues, which asserted that a “strong majority” of producers and associate producers working at Sharp Entertainment have now signed union cards designating the WGA as its collective bargaining agent.

“As one of the largest production companies Sharp Entertainment is in a position to advance the discussion about how the industry should treat producers and APs by leaps and bounds,” the letter said. “To be clear, this is not about attacking or punishing a single production company; it’s about changing the way we are compensated for our hard work. This is NOT an attack on Sharp, nor is it is an attempt to divide the company.”

The missive said that key areas for improvement include setting minimum rates; overtime pay, including compensation for people working on crashes; health benefits secured with a contract; clarity on paid vacations and comp time; a transparent system of performance reviews; a pathway for promotions that allows flexibility but ensures that people receive credit and pay for the job they are performing; fair credits and a procedure for dealing with grievances.

“We risk a great deal by doing nothing and watching rates go down, production schedules get tighter, hours get longer, budgets get smaller, crews get leaner, etc.,” the letter said. “Change will not happen here or anywhere else unless producers and APs band together across the industry. We are proud to join with the hundreds of other non-fiction producers and writers in the campaign to organize creative workers in our industry.”

The WGA East has been trying to organize non-fiction production companies for years. It reached three-year master contract agreements in July 2012 with Lion Television and Optomen Prods but saw a setback earlier this year at Atlas Media, where the employees voted to de-certify the guild as its bargaining rep.

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