WGA East pickets networks for higher wages

Reality TV producers picketed outside A+E Networks’s New York headquarters on Tuesday (Nov. 15) to demand the company commit to minimum pay rates. A video posted on the Writers Guild of ...
November 16, 2016

Reality TV producers picketed outside A+E Networks’s New York headquarters on Tuesday (Nov. 15) to demand the company commit to minimum pay rates.

A video posted on the Writers Guild of America, East’s (WGAE) Facebook page showed members marching in the rain with placards and chanting “freelance is not free.”

The WGAE is in the midst of ongoing contract negotiations with Leftfield Entertainment-owned producers Leftfield Pictures and Loud TV. The guild targeted the A&E, History, Lifetime and FYI operator after the production giant’s bargaining team reportedly said cable network budgets for reality shows are forcing the company to pay writer-producers less than $15 an hour in some cases.

“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 Lowell Peterson, WGAE’s executive director, in a statement. “This is less than the new minimum wage for fast food workers in New York [$15]. In an industry that’s earning supersized profits, writer-producers should be able to build sustainable careers and not struggle to make ends meet.”

The guild said more than 100 writer-producers picketed outside A+E. It also delivered a petition signed by nearly 900 non-fiction producers that calls on the cable giant to commit to fair minimum pay rates, safety and scheduling standards, paid time off and healthcare benefits.

The less-than-$15 per hour rate is based on $800 per week for a 60-hour work week. At the moment, there is no set hourly minimum rate and pay at Leftfield ranges. A guild rep said that some workers earn $700 per week while more experienced producers make a lot more.

A+E is a major client of Leftfield’s, which is why the WGAE went there first. If negotiations continue to stall over production budgets, the guild’s executive director Lowell Peterson said its members may visit other network offices. “There are more networks in town,” he told realscreen. “We’ll keep at it.”

“The company was so adamant that its hands were tied by the networks. That’s why we went to A+E,” he said. “If we need to get the networks to pony up, that’s fine. That’s a conversation we’re starting with the networks today.”

In response, Leftfield strongly refuted the claims as “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,” the company said in a statement.

“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,” it continued.

Leftfield also countered an earlier claim reportedly made by the union that Leftfield/Loud TV are at a stalemate in their negotiations, stating, “That is 100% false.”

Leftfield also called the guild’s statements regarding negotiations an “unprofessional attempt to garner attention” and “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,” the company said. “We expect the WGAE to continue to meet its lawful obligations to negotiate in good faith with Leftfield and Loud TV.”

Last year, writer-producers at Leftfield Entertainment-owned Leftfield Pictures and Loud TV voted to unionize with the WGAE. Leftfield Pictures’ credits include long-running series Pawn Stars and survival series Alone for History and the military-inspired competition series American Grit for Fox.

A spokesperson for A+E Networks was not available to comment at press time.

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for HMV.com. As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.