LOS ANGELES – During the holiday season parents searched for movies appropriate for their children, and Hollywood studios spent millions of dollars to capture that young audience.

Among the releases this Christmas was a Nickelodeon movie, Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, that the company hopes will lead to enormous merchandising revenues.

The studio has developed a sweeping national advertising campaign targeting children they hope will be lured into buying toys, video games, clothes and other products based on the movie and television series.

There is much more to the story, and it is very troubling.

Seven months ago, writers working on Nickelodeon’s animated television series asked the Writers Guild of America, the union representing television and movie writers, to become their bargaining representative. The creative and hard-working people had felt mistreated for a long time and were frustrated in their efforts to have their concerns addressed by the company.

Nickelodeon pays many of them far less than union-negotiated minimums and refuses to pay residuals, the standard for all writers in the industry for more than 40 years. Nickelodeon does not offer multi-employer health or pension plans that are critical to those working in the entertainment industry.

When the Writers Guild asked Nickelodeon if we could begin discussions on behalf of these writers, Nickelodeon said no, not once but repeatedly.

The frustration of the writers mounted. They chose to vote on who should be their bargaining representative. The Guild invited California Assemblyman Paul Koretz to witness the election and certify that it was fair.

In full view of their employer and Koretz, the writers cast secret ballots. Of 21 writers who voted, 19 voted to be represented by the Guild.

What happened next? Nothing – and everything. Nickelodeon refused to sit down with the Guild.

After the writers on Nickelodeon’s SpongeBob SquarePants asked to be represented by the Guild, Nickelodeon canceled production of this hit show.

After the writers on the series Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius asked to be represented by the union, Nickelodeon transferred the show and its writers to a subcontractor that offered no health coverage for their children or other dependents.

After the Writers Guild asked whether the manufacturers Nickelodeon uses to make toys and apparel are signatory to fair labor codes protecting children in China and other countries from exploitation as child laborers, Nickelodeon had its lawyers respond with threatening letters to the Guild.

Nickelodeon is a subsidiary of Viacom, a giant corporation that owns CBS, Paramount Pictures, Showtime, Infinity Broadcasting, Westwood One, Simon & Schuster, Blockbuster Video, Infinity Outdoor Advertising, BET, MTV, VH1, TNN, Sundance Channel, King World, UPN and Comedy Central.

Clearly that is not enough because Viacom now wants the Federal Communications Commission to lift the ownership rules that limit the number of media outlets one corporation can own.

They want to own more, more and ever more, but they don’t want to pay even minimum benefits to the people who write the Nickelodeon programs that have helped make their company enormously profitable.

Nickelodeon’s advertising slogan has long been “We care about kids.” We believe Nickelodeon has demonstrated that it cares principally about profit.

– Victoria Riskin is president of the Writers Guild of America, West. –