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SAG-AFTRA, Telemundo Unionization Battle Heats Up

SAG-AFTRA and NBCUniversal are raising the stakes in their battle for  unionization of Spanish-language performers on its Telemundo productions.

The performers union accused NBCUniversal of operating with a double standard between Spanish-language and English-language talent hired for productions under the same parent corporation. SAG-AFTRA made the announcement Tuesday on the heels of NBCUniversal unveiling plans for a new headquarters in Miami for its Telemundo operations; Telemundo responded by saying it was committed to making itself a “great place to work” for its employees.

The battle ramped up Friday as both sides issued statements deriding the other. SAG-AFTRA accused Telemundo of treating its employees “like second-class professionals.”

In a message to employees Friday, Telemundo president Luis Silberwasser noted that SAG-AFTRA had asked for recognition of the union as the bargaining agent for employees — rather than seeking a vote by employees.

“At Telemundo we support all of our employees’ rights. Our talent and employees are capable of deciding what is in their own best interest,” Silberwasser said. “For that reason we believe our talent should exercise their right to vote on whether or not to join a union, rather than having the company enter into a one-sided “agreement” with SAG/AFTRA. We adamantly oppose waiving any group of employees’ right to vote, and we promise to protect each individual employee’s vote in a secret ballot election, as deemed by the law.”

Silberwasser said SAG/AFTRA outright rejected proposal.

“An election based on a secret ballot and conducted by the National Labor Relations Board is the democratic process that is most appropriate, as well as the American way,” he said. “The union disagrees and doesn’t want employees to exercise their right to vote individually.

Silberwasser also asserted that Telemundo is the only Spanish-language media company that is growing and creating jobs for Spanish-language talent  in the U.S.

“As a matter of fact, Telemundo is today the largest employer of Spanish-language talent in the U.S., compared to our competitors who import most of their prime-time content from another country,” he added. “As a result of our long-term investments, our Telemundo Studios operation has become stronger, more modern and certainly more successful as Telemundo continues to deliver unprecedented growth in ratings and audience share, fueled by high-quality original content produced by U.S. Hispanics, specifically for U.S. Hispanics.”

Silberwasser said the groundbreaking of the new Miami headquarters is a reflection of that commitment.

“The investment in the new building, the acquisition of the exclusive Spanish-language media rights to the FIFA World Cup through 2026, and our continuous investment in original content, our employees and our talent, are a testament to the strength of NBCUniversal’s confidence in the potential of the Hispanic market and Telemundo,” he said.

Silberwasser also said that Telemundo Studios has seen investments in new technical equipment, a new food vendor and the building of a new 3,000 square foot facility for talent along with TV screens installed in public places and quarterly meetings with Telemundo Studio employees.

“We remain committed to making Telemundo a great place to work for our talent and our employees,” he concluded.  “Backed by more than a decade of support from NBCUniversal, we will continue to invest in order to guarantee that the salaries and working conditions of our employees are competitive with the rest of the broadcasting industry.”

SAG-AFTRA responded late Friday night by saying the company fell short in addressing the double standard that exists between Spanish-language and English-language talent within its own organization. It repeated the assertions that talent on Spanish-language networks are not protected under SAG-AFTRA contracts — meaning that many actors do not receive basic workplace guarantees that SAG-AFTRA contracts provide, such as fair pay, water breaks, health insurance and residuals.

“NBCUniversal, through its Telemundo-branded content, is perpetuating one set of standards for its English-language performers and a lower set of standards for Spanish-language performers,” said SAG-AFTRA President Ken Howard. “You cannot claim to support diversity and inclusion on the one hand while treating Spanish-language performers as second-class employees on the other.”

The union also derided Silberwasser’s position that Telemundo would prefer to have its employees vote on whether to join SAG-AFTRA:

“SAG-AFTRA’s position on this is clear: There is no such thing as a ‘fair vote’ when workers are afraid for their careers and livelihoods, and live with the fear of retaliation if they are seen as actively wanting to unionize. SAG-AFTRA wants to ensure full protection for workplace democracy and performers’ rights to choose through a truly fair process. The question here is simple: Should Spanish-speaking employees be treated like second-class professionals? We choose to believe the answer is a resounding ‘No’ and we urge NBCUniversal to join us in correcting this inequity.”

SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director David White urged NBCUniversal to allow unionization of the Spanish-language performers at Telemundo.

“SAG-AFTRA and NBCUniversal have a strong history of working collaboratively to address issues in a constructive manner in regard to English-language programming,” said White. “We strongly encourage NBCUniversal to respect its Spanish-language talent by engaging in similar collaboration.”

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