Escalating the dispute over striking “Fashion Police” writers, the Council of the Writers Guild of America East has voted to send charges filed against Joan Rivers to a trial board — which could lead to Rivers becoming the first member ever expelled from the WGA East.
Rivers, a lifetime member of the WGA East, faces a hearing before a three-person board over allegations she violated the union’s rules by writing and by performing showrunner duties for the E! Network show, which is not under WGA jurisdiction. Guild members are not allowed to work on non-union shows.
Rivers had no comment but her manager Larry Thompson issued a statement brushing off the WGA’s action and portraying the dispute as a squabble between the network and the guild.
“Other than a press release, nothing has been filed by the WGA,” he said. “We have received no communication, notice or any paperwork from anyone at the union. Joan has stated clearly, and E! Networks has repeatedly reconfirmed that Joan supports the ‘Fashion Police’ writers who are hired by E! Networks Productions, not her. This is an issue between E! and the WGA. She is on-air talent.”
WGA East exec director Lowell Peterson said the guild has not yet selected the members to serve on the trial board but will soon.
The WGA East constitution states that violators of guild rules can be “suspended, declared not in good standing, expelled from membership in the Guild, be asked to resign, be censured, fined or otherwise disciplined or any combination of the foregoing.”
The trial board’s finding will be sent to the WGA East Council, which can affirm or overturn the ruling. A member can appeal that decision directly to the membership.
“Fashion Police” writers have been on strike since April 17 over the network’s refusal to meet the WGA’s demand for jurisdiction over the series.
The writers have filed complaints with the state of California alleging that E! and Rivers’ Rugby Prods., which jointly employ the scribes, had not paid $1.5 million in wages and overtime. The WGA, which assisted in the filing of the claims, is sanctioning the strike and has told the 12,000 members not to work on the show until the matter is settled.
E! has said repeatedly that it will not grant the writers union recognition without an election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board. The WGA has responded by asserting that the requirement of an NLRB election is a stalling tactic.
The WGA East said Wednesday, “The writers on that show are paid a fraction of industry-standard compensation and receive no health or pension benefits.”
The WGA East said that the trial board of three members will be appointed shortly with Rivers given the opportunity to present her case directly to the trial board.
“We are distressed by reports that Joan Rivers, who worked so hard to create an illustrious career, turned her back on other writers who are still building careers of their own,” said WGA East president Michael Winship in a statement.
“The question of whether she has, in fact, violated our working rules will be decided by the trial board,” he added. “We cannot pre-judge the outcome, but we can say that it is a very serious matter when a member is accused of writing and showrunning on a non-covered show, and continuing to do so after the other writers have decided to go on strike for reasonable pay and benefits.”
On Tuesday, the Writers Guild of America West released video testimonials from the striking writers.