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Viacom eases off benefit cut plan

Scrutiny of freelancers will still continue

In the face of walkouts and pickets, Viacom has scaled back plans to pare benefits offered to freelance workers at MTV Networks.

Since Monday, dozens of demonstrators had been picketing the company’s Times Square headquarters, with freelancers walking off their jobs for at least an hour.

In a memo issued to all employees Wednesday afternoon, HR exec JoAnne Griffith highlighted the “many insightful conversations” during information sessions held this week with freelancers. The outcry, first reported by Gawker.com, was originally tied to the company’s shift of freelancers to outside payroll vendor Cast and Crew.

Griffith outlined three changes to the company’s stance, including extending existing benefits at current rates to eligible employees; delaying the shift to Cast and Crew until Feb. 1; and planning to notify workers by Jan. 31 about whether they can be converted to staff positions.

It is not clear exactly how many freelancers work for the company. Organizers of the walkouts estimated some 2,000-plus; the production of the many series in motion under the MTV Networks tent certainly requires the services of a great many animators, production assistants and others.

One MTV Nets insider said the strategy that drove the freelance rollbacks would remain in place. In a bid to prove to Wall Street that the company is managing costs, the person said, its scrutiny of freelancers will likely continue.

(John Dempsey contributed to this report.)

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