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Federal Investigators Back Writers Guild on Original Media Complaints

Reality show producer Original Media has entered into a settlement agreement with the National Labor Relations Board after the Writers Guild of America alleged the company had failed to bargain in good faith.

Original Media produces “Ink Master” and “BBQ Pitt Wars.” The writer-producers at Original voted last year to represented by the WGA East and negotiations began shortly after the election.

Monday’s announcement of the NLRB ruling is the latest in an acrimonious dispute between the company, owned by Endemol/Shine, and the guild over the contract negotiations. The WGA East had announced last week that it planned to picket the Oct. 13 finale of “Ink Master” over the failure of the company to reach a deal.

The NLRB investigation resulted from the company implementing a health insurance plan for employees and Original’s subsequent failure to provide it with information about the plan. That led to the guild filing unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB, alleging the company breached its duty to bargain in good faith.

“One of the central principles of collective bargaining is that the parties have to reach agreement on all issues before the employer can implement anything,” said Lowell Peterson, executive director of the WGA East. “That is the give and take of bargaining, and it enables the employees to leverage their collective strength to achieve their goals.  At Original, people wanted to negotiate a decent health plan with reasonable deductibles and affordable premiums, and the company slammed that door shut.”

“The NLRB’s ruling illustrates Original’s utter disregard for its employees’ decision to join with the WGAE and obtain affordable health benefits, minimum weekly rates, paid time off and other basic union protections,” Peterson added. “We are gratified that the NLRB found Original’s disgraceful conduct to be unlawful.”

A spokeswoman for Original disputed the WGA’s assertion that the NLRB had found that the company  failed to negotiate in good faith.

“Original Media chose to offer healthcare to all of its employees, beginning January 1 of this year (in conjunction with open enrollment) via a comprehensive plan widely used throughout the industry,” she added. “The WGAE objected not to the plan itself, but to the level of contribution (80% of the cost of an individual plan offered by Original, versus the 95.5% demanded by the union).”

She also asserted guild insisted that Original Media would agree that all employees must pay union dues or risk termination, adding, “Thus, Original Media reiterates that these are issues that should be discussed at the bargaining table.”

Peterson said the NLRB ruling is “concrete proof” that Original is not negotiating in good faith. “The only acceptable next step is for Original to stop playing games and finalize the agreement that addresses its employees’ concerns,” he added.

The guild said the settlement gives the guild the right to demand that Original rescind its health insurance plan. It also provides that Original must notify unit employees that it will not select and implement its own health insurance plan without providing the union with notice and opportunity to bargain over this decision and its effects.

The settlement also provides several restrictions on Original’s conduct, including not bypassing the union by dealing directly with employees; not refusing to furnish the union with information relevant and necessary to its role as the exclusive bargaining representative; and not making changes in wages, hours and working conditions without reaching an overall good faith impasse in bargaining for a collective bargaining agreement.

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