WGA Strike: Can Reality TV Writers Be Assimilated Without Their Consent?

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WGA Strike: Can Reality TV Writers Be Assimilated Without Their Consent?

Mon Dec 10, 2007 @ 02:44PM PST

Posted by Eriq Gardner

Wga_labor_060506 It's starting to look like the WGA strike is headed for the long, hard slog. In late November, there was an inch of optimism as both sides traded new proposals and met to bargain. Unfortunately, any holiday season goodwill between the two sides seems gone.

Before the two sides meet again, some new issues have come up. In the WGA's last proposal, the writers demanded first-time jurisdiction over reality TV and animation writing. The WGA may have cooked this up as a method to get the AMPTP to bend on its other points. (The producers almost certainly would not want to head into any future strike without reality TV to save its programming grid.)

But the proposal does raise some interesting legal questions. Assuming AMPTP granted the WGA's proposal to bend reality writers into their fold, the New York Times asks, "Can they impose union membership on a unit whose members have not signed up?"

Jerry Coker at Ford & Harrison says, "As a general rule, a group of employees cannot be involuntarily subjected to union representation by a labor union."

Coker says that the National Labor Relations Board would have to conduct a vote by the prospective guild members or "an employer (would have to) voluntarily choose to recognize a union as the representative of a group of employees based on authorization cards or a petition signed by a majority of the employees in an appropriate unit."

Sounds like even if the WGA got a contract that covered reality TV, they'd need reality TV writers to consent to being assimilated. Do reality TV writers want that to happen? Some, as pointed out by the NYT, are already represented by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. They may doubt whether the WGA will really represent their interests.

But if the reality writers see this strike as an opportunity for leverage on their own demands, they may wish to join. In such a case, perhaps a contract isn't needed to clarify jurisdiction. Louis P. DiLorenzo, co-chair of the Labor & Employment Department at Bond Schoeneck & King, says the WGA "can go to the NLRB and file a unit clarification petition to include the work done by these writers, if not included now. They could also file a grievance and pursue arbitration over whether the current jurisdiction of the contract covers this work. They could organize the nonunion employees as a separate unit, and try to leverage their collective strength against the employer with a provision of honoring each others picket lines."

Imagine what might happen if TV networks didn't have reality television to fall back on.

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The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to Matthew.Belloni@thr.com

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