“Swamp People” carry union cards

A majority of writer-producers at the New York-based reality TV production company Original Media, creator of “Swamp People,” voted overwhelmingly to join the Writers Guild of America, East, (WGAE) in an election held by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The vote was 42 to 9.

Writer-producers at Original Media also create popular shows such as “Ink Master” and “Comic Book Men.”

According to WGAE, Original Media is a member of a recently announced employer association, the Nonfiction Producers Association, which was formed in response to the Writers Guild of America’s campaign. The association’s stated purpose is to improve employees’ working conditions, and “Original Media now has the opportunity to do so in negotiations with the Guild,” says WGAE.

“The men and women who work so hard to create nonfiction (reality) TV shows have demonstrated that they want WGAE representation to help them improve their working conditions and to build sustainable careers. We look forward to sitting down with the company and negotiating a contract that will provide health benefits, paid time off, minimum compensation levels and other basic union protections,” says Lowell Peterson, executive director, Writers Guild of America, East.

Today’s victory adds more momentum to the campaign to improve reality TV working conditions.

WGAE has negotiated collective bargaining agreements with three nonfiction television production companies-Optomen Productions, Lion TV and Sharp Entertainment. Now WGAE is at the bargaining table with a fourth company (ITV) and is awaiting the outcome of an NLRB appeal at Peacock Productions (affiliated with NBC Universal), where drama and comedy writers have long been represented by WGAE.

Unlike employees of scripted (fiction) television programs, who have access to rewarding jobs with union protections and benefits, the writer-producers in reality TV work incredibly long hours without extra pay, have no health or other benefits and have no voice on the job. The Guild has been meeting and communicating with some 2,000 of these freelance employees for about four years and has been able to win concrete gains through organizing, negotiating contracts and raising public awareness.

A recent WGAE report shows that the reality TV industry has the potential of creating stable, high-quality jobs. The report, The Real Reality: Working Conditions in the the Nonfiction and Reality Television Industry in NYCshows that the city’s reality TV sector grew 20 percent over the past 10 years, and today accounts for more than 12,000 jobs. In June, the New York City Council held a hearing, “The Real Reality of Reality TV,” that probed conditions in the growing industry. These conditions include 80-hour workweeks with no overtime, health care benefits, paid sick or vacation time. 

The above article is reprinted from the FL-CIO Now Blog.

Photo: Swamp People. History Channel official website


Jackie Tortora
Jackie Tortora

Jackie Tortora is Senior Digital Strategies Manager at AFL CIO.