Reality TV shows accuses of stealing wages

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

“A new union report alleges rampant lawlessness in the lucrative and growing reality TV industry,” Josh Eidelson wrote in a November 19 Salon.com article.

“The Writers Guild of America, East [WGAE], which authored the report based on a survey of current and former non-union workers, contends that it reveals an ugly reality behind top shows like 'Pawn Stars' and 'Fatal Encounters,' which have been supplanting unionized, scripted sitcoms and dramas.”

Producer David Van Taylor said in the report: “I’ve known people to work upwards of 100 hours in a given week while shooting and then had to immediately start writing the script upon return, with no down time, in order to have the script ready in time for the editor.

“There’s no compensation for that additional work, and it’s especially hard when you have a family.”

Eidelson said: “The union contends that the stark statistics … reflect a broader industry reality. While 60 percent said they work over eight hours every workday, 85 percent said they never receive overtime pay.

“Forty-nine percent reported that their time cards 'never' showed the actual number of hours they had worked, and 64 percent 'said they’d been asked to turn in a time card that just said ‘worked’…”

One unnamed respondent wrote: “I’ve worked up to 20 days straight, at least 16 hour days, with no time off and received the same pay [as] had I worked a regular 5 day, 40 hour work week.”

WGAE says the industry evades accountability in part by wrongly classifying employees as “independent contractors” or “supervisors”.

Eidelson said a union report last year found that “reality shows had doubled as a share of prime-time TV programming, a shift that WGAE attributes primarily to a huge gap in production costs”.

The authors of the new report said that while a “top nonfiction show on the History cable network might have an episode budget between $225,000 and $425,000 … by contrast, Royal Pains, a hit scripted show on the USA cable network, has an episode budget between $2 and $2.5 million”.

The report said that was, in part, because,“Both the broadcast and cable scripted shows tend to have far more union workers, from camera crews to actors to writers and producers”.

From GLW issue 990