Representatives from the Writers Guild of America East (WGAE) and other unions congregated outside the Washington Hilton (pictured) during the Realscreen Summit today (January 29) to protest ITV Studios and urge the company to reach a collective bargaining agreement covering its non-fiction producers and writers.
Justin Molito - director of organizing for WGAE and the spokesperson for the group assembled outside the hotel – said the agreement would bring about improved working conditions in terms of hours as well as health insurance.
The parties have been in talks for two years but have yet to reach an agreement. A similar protest was staged outside ITV Studios’ New York office in May.
“A lot of the conversations at these conferences is about the industry growing up and being treated with respect, so in order for that to happen the companies need to treat the employees in unscripted with the same respect employees in scripted are treated, and that means reaching agreements,” Molito told realscreen on-site.
The 12 member-strong group of protesters outside the Hilton included representatives from the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) as well as local Washington DC labor unions. Molito said the protest comes ahead of a panel at Georgetown University Thursday evening that is to discuss issues in the non-fiction industry.
Both the petition and today’s protest are centered on concerns around a forthcoming NBC variety show starring How I Met Your Mother actor Neil Patrick Harris. Protestors assert that ITV Studios expects to hire Guild members to write and produce the show – which is technically non-fiction – though it has yet to reach a collective bargaining agreement with non-fiction writers and producers.
The union also asserted in a statement distributed at Thursday’s protest that America’s National Labor Relations Board is “investigating ITV’s unlawful implementation of a health plan – a plan which would require employees to pay many thousands of dollars out of their own pockets before receiving a single penny of benefits, despite heft monthly premiums.”
In a statement given to realscreen in response to the protest and the union’s accompanying statement, an ITV spokesperson said: “The ITV Studios America affiliate producing Saturday Night Takeaway has a binding agreement with the WGA covering the writers of that series.”
Regarding the healthcare allegations from the union, the company stated: “In an entirely separate matter, the WGA has falsely claimed that a different ITV Studios America affiliate has failed to negotiate in good faith in connection with the WGA’s representation of producers and associate producers of reality programming. In truth, the negotiating parties have reached agreement on the great majority of issues, and ITV is working to resolve any remaining differences.”
The Summit protest comes after more than 175 comedy and variety writers for shows such as SNL, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon signed a petition Monday (January 26) encouraging ITV Studios to reach an agreement.
“We are one Guild – not separate unions based on genre or TV network,” read the petition. “There is not a Guild for people who write comedy and variety, a separate Guild for daytime serial writers, a separate Guild for news writers and producers, a separate Guild for feature film writers, a separate Guild for non-fiction writers and producers.
“ITV cannot expect to take advantage of the talent and experience of Writers Guild members who do comedy and variety while disrespecting the talent and experience of its non-fiction writer-producers.”
In response to ITV Studios’ comment on the protest, the WGAE issued a statement to realscreen that reads: “ITV would like to believe its refusal to enter a reasonable agreement with the Guild – and its violation of federal labor law – have no effect on the company’s ability to expand its television business in the U.S.
“The We Are One Guild petition signed by 175 of the most talented, best known, and most experienced comedy writers in American television belies this,” it continued. “What WGAE members are showing is solidarity. We stand together, regardless of genre.”