WGA West filed unfair labor practices charges Wednesday against ABC, CBS, WB Network, Fox and several production companies, alleging that they interfered with the guild's campaign to organize reality television writers.
The guild is concerned that the networks and producers, as defendants in a lawsuit brought by reality TV writers, are trying to abuse the legal process by issuing subpoenas to top WGAW officials, who are not parties to the lawsuit.
The charge, filed with the National Labor Relations Board, claims that the companies want to illegally "interfere with employees' right to organize."
"They've been using the discovery process to intrude into the relationship between the union and the plaintiffs," said Jeff Hermanson, WGAW's newly appointed director of organizing. "They can do whatever they want to do, but they can't use the court to intimidate and coerce employees who are seeking to organize."
A copy of the NLRB charge was sent to attorney Jeffrey Richardson, who's helping to defend the companies. Richardson was not available for comment Wednesday.
While it did not file the cases, WGAW was instrumental in helping two sets of nonunion writers to sue for alleged violations of California labor law. The Los Angeles Superior Court cases, filed last summer by attorney Tony Segall, WGAW's outside counsel, are intended to pressure the companies to grant the union's jurisdiction over reality TV writers and story editors.
Since then, the two cases have been merged into one at the request of the companies, which then issued five subpoenas to such WGAW leaders as interim executive director David Young and former executive director John McLean.
So far, these individuals have resisted the subpoenas, and the guild hopes the NLRB will bar any investigation of the union's activities. A decision is expected within 30-45 days.
Among other concerns, union leaders believe the companies are trying to disqualify Segall from representing the plaintiffs on this case.
The class-action lawsuits allege that, in the rush to produce reality TV on the cheap, nonunion writers and editors were routinely denied overtime and meal breaks, while being required to falsify time cards so they would earn a flat fee for weeks that often stretched on for 80 or more hours.
In addition to the networks, the NLRB charge was filed against Syndicated Prods., Dawn Syndicated Prods., Next Entertainment, Telepictures Prods., Turner Broadcasting System and Rocket Science Laboratories.
These companies have been responsible for such reality TV series as "The Bachelor," "Are You Hot?," "Trading Spouses," "Joe Millionaire" and "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance."
WGAW's Hermanson has only recently joined the guild and this particular battle.
A labor organizer for the past 29 years, Hermanson spent 22 years with the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and then a few years with the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America before serving in various capacities with the AFL-CIO. The latter included being the AFL-CIO's representative in Mexico and running its union strengthening program in Washington.
Hermanson and Young also have a long history dating back to their days organizing garment workers.
Jesse Hiestand writes for The Hollywood Reporter.
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