November 19, 2013

Jerrold Nadler (l.), Lowell Peterson and Letitia James call on cable networks to make changes
Jerrold Nadler (l.), Lowell Peterson and Letitia James call on cable networks to make changes in the industry.

By Marc Bussanich

New York, NY—Reality TV has been popular among audiences and profitable for the cable networks for a long time, but according to the writers and producers of popular Reality TV shows such as Pawn Stars, The First 48 and Fatal Encounters they are having to work sometimes 60 to 80 hours per week without overtime pay. The Writers Guild of America East hopes to organize about 1,500 of them and sign collective bargaining agreements with the major networks. 

David Van Taylor has written content for several Reality TV shows and said in an interview that it’s not uncommon for he and his colleagues to work 60 hours or more per week. In fact, he worked almost 100 hours in one week six months ago but didn’t get any overtime pay for that work.

“I’m not filling out a time card that reflects the reality of how many hours I worked during the day or week,” said Van Taylor.

According to Lowell Peterson, WGA’s president, there are a variety of production companies throughout the city of varying sizes that are pressured by the broadcasters to finish projects quicker and faster. He presented a white paper during the press conference produced by the union based on a survey of 1,266 nonfiction TV writers and producers.

The report reveals that 84 percent of writers and producers work more than 40 hours per week regularly, 85 percent don’t receive overtime pay and only 11 percent said their timecards accurately reflected the hours they worked. As a result of these working conditions, the union estimates that writers and producers are losing about $40 million annually, or $30,000 each.

Mr. Peterson said collective bargaining agreements with the networks would immediately improve the writers’ livelihoods.  

It would seem the cable network industry is in a strong position to pay higher wages. The union cites in the white paper, “The Real Cost of Reality TV: How the Nonfiction Industry Steals Tens of Millions of Dollars from New York Taxpayers,” that revenue and profit margins have grown over the years, with total revenue growing to $52.3 billion in 2012.

Elected officials stood with WGA officials at their offices on 250 Hudson Street. Congressman Jerrold Nadler invoked the long working hours and poor working conditions of seamstresses 100 years ago at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in calling for changes in the nonfiction television industry.

“I call upon the companies…to obey all wage and hour laws and I support efforts to enforce those laws,” said Nadler.

Public Advocate-elect Letitia James concurred. 

“The networks and production companies that make millions of dollars in profits…must respect their employees’ right to work together to build sustainable careers,” said James.

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