Reality TV writers in the US sue major networks, production companies

MUMBAI: 12 reality TV writers, assisted by the Writers Guild of America west (WGAw), have filed a class-action suit in the Superior Court of California.

The suit charges eight television networks and production companies with gross violations of California's labour laws governing payment of overtime, wages, and meal periods.

WGAw president Daniel Petrie Jr said, "These violations of California law are no mere accounting errors.They are deliberately designed to deny these writers the basic rights and legal protections of fair wages, overtime, and a meal break. Unfortunately, those cases are not unique.

"It is but one example of the pervasive conditions we have found in reality television productions – and it underscores why so many reality writers and editors have come to the Writers Guild seeking union representation."

The writers who brought the suit worked on such reality shows as The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Are You Hot?, The Two Timer, The Will, The Starlet, and The Real Gilligan's Island. They were given such various job titles as assistant story editor, story assistant, story editor and story producer.

Their complaint charges four production companies - Next Entertainment, Telepictures Productions, Syndicated Productions and Dawn Syndicated Productions and four networks ABC, CBS, WB and TBS with failure to pay overtime, willful falsification of or failure to maintain payroll records, and the chronic failure to afford meal periods required by law. The suit also seeks class-action status on behalf of the plaintiffs and others employed on these programmes.

According to the suit The Bachelor and the other shows established a flat weekly rate for an 84-hour work week. Regardless of the number of hours employees worked, they received only the flat weekly rate, even when the law requires that they receive time-and-a-half after 40 hours and double-time after 80 hours. In California, employers are required to calculate an employee's hourly rate by dividing 40 hours into the weekly rate.

The suit alleges that once they were hired, the 12 writers were required to falsify their time cards, either by simply writing the term "Worked" across the card or by entering predetermined start and end times for each day of the week. In fact, the suit notes, the employees worked far in excess of 40 hours per week during virtually every week of their employment but never received any premium overtime pay.

Petrie notes, "The entertainment industry established basic decent working conditions and compensation standards decades ago. What is happening here harkens back to the conditions experienced in the early 20th century. The companies falsified the hour rates on their pay stubs to reflect that overtime had been paid when it hadn't. To add insult to injury, they refused to give meal periods to writers when they were working 10-, 12-, and 20-hour days, six or seven days a week.

"These are major production companies and networks with financial and creative control who should be ashamed to have talented writers with a de facto hourly pay of less than $10 per hour, with no overtime, no meal periods, no pension and health, and no residuals. It's time to put an end to these conditions."

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