More than 100 members and supporters of the Writers Guild of America East have picketed the A&E network at its Manhattan headquarters over low pay rates to its members.
The guild said Leftfield Entertainment, the largest “reality”/nonfiction production company on the East Coast, has been blaming TV networks for controlling the economics of making nonfiction shows and for making it necessary to propose poverty-level pay rates for Leftfield’s writer-producers.
The WGA East unionized the Leftfield writer-producers last year, covering shows such as “Pawn Stars” and “Counting Cars.” A&E did not respond immediately to a request for comment but Leftfield issued a statement blasting the WGA East several hours later and calling it “unprofessional” and “reckless.”
“Writer-producers are demanding to know if A&E, as Leftfield asserts, is the cause of race-to-the-bottom labor conditions, including poverty-level pay proposals,” the guild said.
The guild also delivered an industry-wide petition, signed by nearly 900 nonfiction television writer-producers, to A&E that calls on the network to commit to working with production companies with fair minimum pay rates, safety and scheduling standards, paid time off and healthcare benefits.
“Nonfiction production companies often say their hands are tied by their network contracts, which is why we feel it is important that the networks know what we’re demanding,” said David Van Taylor, a nonfiction writer-producer. “We’re not asking for the moon—just for reasonable working conditions and fair pay.”
Lowell Peterson, Executive Director of the Writers Guild of America East, said, “What Leftfield tells us at the bargaining table is that cable network budgets force the company to propose poverty-level pay rates – literally less than $15/hour in many cases. This is less than the new minimum wage for fast food workers in New York. In an industry that’s earning supersized profits, writer-producers should be able to build sustainable careers and not struggle to make ends meet.”
Leftfield, which is part of ITV, denounced the WGA East’s assertion that it and Loud TV have proposed “poverty-level pay rates” — $11,770 a year for a single person household — is “categorically untrue and pure propaganda.”
“In fact, the WGAE has acknowledged on multiple occasions during the negotiations that Leftfield and Loud pay well above the ‘minimums’ the Guild has negotiated with other production companies,” the companies said. “Having visited the site of the ‘picketing,’ it’s safe to say there were less than 40 in attendance, and we can assert that some have never worked at Leftfield or Loud TV and still others were the WGAE’s own staff members.”
Leftfield also said that it is “100% false” that negotiations are at a stalemate, as the guild asserted in an email to its members earlier this month.
“Leftfield and Loud TV consider A+E Networks incredible partners in this industry and we look forward to continuing to make quality programming for them,” it said. “The WGAE’s statements and actions regarding the negotiations are nothing more than an unprofessional attempt to garner attention, and stem from the Guild’s lack of understanding about the business of unscripted television, which is driving the WGAE’s ineffective and reckless tactics.”
“For our employees and the industry, we have led the charge ensuring lawful and fair compensation, paid time off, health benefits and a safe working environment. We expect the WGAE to continue to meet its lawful obligations to negotiate in good faith with Leftfield and Loud TV.”
The guild began organizing reality TV six years ago. It represents writer-producers at the ITV-owned Kirkstall Road Enterprises, Original Media, Sharp Entertainment, Optomen Prods., Lion TV and Jane Street Entertainment.