WGA East Pickets A&E Over “Poverty Level” Wages; Leftfield & Guild Trade Jabs In Media – Update

David Robb
Deadline

3RD UPDATE, 4:28 PM: It’s been a little more than an hour since the last salvo in the verbal battle between the WGA East and Leftfield Entertainment/Loud TV, but the silence is over. In their continuing – and increasingly pointed – tête–à–tête about their ongoing contract negotiations, Leftfield Entertainment and its subsidiary have fired back at the union, claiming in their latest broadside that WGAE “continues to embarrass itself by mischaracterizing the facts and discussions surrounding our negotiations. Their further comments are oversimplifications, ridiculous and false. Leftfield and Loud TV will continue our efforts at the bargaining table and will not be commenting further on today’s events.” Stay tuned…

2ND UPDATE, 3:16 PM: The WGA East has taken its dispute with Leftfield Entertainment from the bargaining table to the streets of Manhattan and now to the press in an exchange of words over what’s at stake in the ongoing contract negotiations.

The union has responded to Leftfield’s response to the guild’s picketing of A&E earlier today in rainy New York City, WGA East executive director Lowell Peterson released a statement (read it in full today) further clarifying its position that the production company called out as “pure propaganda.

“We do intend to continue to bargain in good faith,” Peterson said in a just-released statement (read it in full below). “And the parties have made some progress in some areas. But the company has been – yes – ‘stonewalling’ is not a bad word to describe the company’s position on pay minimums. We don’t even have agreement on the basic terms of any labor-management agreement such as grievance and arbitration, union security, and the term of the contract. So we have real work to do.”

UPDATE, 1:30 PM: Leftfield Entertainment and its subsidiary Loud TV have responded to the WGA East’s claims of “poverty-level pay rates” with a strongly worded statement, calling the allegations “pure propaganda.” “Where to begin with the number of falsities in the November 15 press release issued by the WGAE?” the companies said. “Starting with the most egregious, the statement claiming that Leftfield and Loud TV have proposed ‘poverty-level pay rates’ – $11,770 a year for a single person household – is categorically untrue and pure propaganda.” Read the full statement below.

PREVIOUS, 10:54 AM: More than 100 writer-producers picketed A&E Network’s offices in Manhattan this morning to protest “poverty-level pay rates” in the still largely non-union reality TV industry.

The WGA East says that in its ongoing negotiations for a first-ever contract with Leftfield Entertainment, the company blamed the networks for controlling the economics of reality TV, and that it’s networks like A&E that are responsible for poor wages and working conditions — even though they’re not the employers.

A&E owns several cable channels such as History and FYI that air Leftfield’s shows such as Pawn Stars, Counting Cars and Tiny House. So the guild put up an information picket at A&E, saying that “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.”

“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,” said WGA East executive director Lowell Peterson. “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.”

“We’re not asking for the moon — just for reasonable working conditions and fair pay,” said David Van Horn, a veteran reality show writer-producer. “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.”

Here is the complete joint statement from Leftfield Entertainment and Loud TV:

“Where to begin with the number of falsities in the November 15 press release issued by the WGAE?. Starting with the most egregious, the statement claiming that Leftfield 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. Further, there are zero ‘writer-producers’ employed or contracted at Leftfield or Loud TV.  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.  And in an email to its members earlier this month, the WGAE has also claimed that Leftfield/Loud TV are at a stalemate in their negotiations. That is 100% false.

“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. 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.”

Here is the WGA East’s response in full this afternoon:

“It was Leftfield that proposed minimums of literally $700 per week for certain union-represented employees who work 60 hours a week in the field. We can do math. $700 for 60 hours (including time and a half for the last 20 hours, as required by law) amounts to ten dollars an hour. After a lot of argument and pressure from current and recent Leftfield employees who attended multiple bargaining sessions, Leftfield finally boosted that offer to $800 per week. Again, the math: that amounts to $11.43 an hour. For other field employees, the company proposed $850/week (that’s $14.17); its latest proposal for field associate producers – again, after a lot of pressure from bargaining unit employees and the union – was a whopping $1000 week for 60 hours, which is $14.29 per hour. Those are facts.

“Yes, we did point out to Leftfield that it pays a number of its employees more than its minimums, and argued that therefore a reasonable employer bargaining in good faith should agree to a contract that reflected pay above this poverty level (I believe I used that exact phrase at the table – I certainly reminded the company’s negotiators of the pending $15/hour minimum wage). The company said it did, in fact, hire people at these low-low rates and the company insisted that it had to be able to continue to do so because the networks determined budgets and the network budgets required these low rates. That is why we decided to go to A&E (which is Leftfield’s biggest, or at least most prominent, customer).

“It is true that the job title ‘Writer-Producer’ is not used at Leftfield. That is our short-hand for the people we represent in nonfiction television who craft the stories that make air. Leftfield deploys 17 separate job titles for bargaining unit employees. Like many WGAE members in television, these folks produce and write (shooting scripts, editing scripts, questions, voice-over, etc., etc.)

“I did not count noses this morning but there were certainly more than 40 people on the informational picket line. As someone who has participated in many rallies and picket lines over the years, I would say our turnout was astonishingly good given the heavy, steady rainfall. Many of the picketers were current and recent Leftfield employees, plus many more who would work at Leftfield if we were able to negotiate a reasonable contract. But the goal was never to make this an all-Leftfielder picket. That would be called a ‘strike.’

“We do intend to continue to bargain in good faith. And the parties have made some progress in some areas. But the company has been – yes – ‘stonewalling’ is not a bad word to describe the company’s position on pay minimums. We don’t even have agreement on the basic terms of any labor-management agreement such as grievance and arbitration, union security, and the term of the contract. So we have real work to do.

“We took Leftfield’s statement that network budgets were to blame for its ultra-low pay proposals as a challenge. If Leftfield is correct then networks like A&E need to get off the low road and get on the high road so the people who produce and write the networks’ shows can build sustainable careers.”

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