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2017-04-12 17:47:02
Reality Show Workers Stage a Walkout to Push Contract Talks Forward

LOS ANGELES — Having successfully turned up the heat on one set of entertainment companies, the Writers Guild of America on Wednesday gave another group a turn on the burner.

The union primarily represents traditional screenwriters — the 12,000 or so wordsmiths who dream up film scripts and annually churn out thousands of scripted TV episodes. On that front, talks with studios for a new contract resumed here on Monday after the union began preparations for a strike.

But the Writers Guild also represents a different set of storytellers — the writer-producers who help put together reality shows. And on Wednesday, the union renewed its push for a separate contract for those workers, staging what it called a walkout at roughly a dozen reality show companies in New York and Los Angeles, including Leftfield Entertainment, best known for making the cable hit “Pawn Stars,” and Peacock Productions, a unit of NBCUniversal.

“It’s about asserting power,” said Lowell Peterson, executive director of the Writers Guild of America, East, the unit which led the effort. “Conditions are still rough in this part of the business, and we are determined to change that.”

The action, which involved at least 100 workers, the union said, took place at lunchtime, which may seem like an odd moment to get attention from an employer. But the union contended otherwise. “In nonfiction, most employees are expected to work through lunch,” Jason Gordon, a guild spokesman, wrote in an email.

The guild. has cordial relationships with some reality television firms and bitter feuds with others. Contract talks, for instance, have been dragging on since 2015 with Leftfield, one of the biggest independent suppliers of reality programming. Late last year, about 50 guild members picketed Leftfield and one of its cable partners, A&E Networks.

In a statement at the time, Leftfield called the action “unprofessional and egregious.”

The guild began recruiting reality show writer-producers about six years ago. Until then, most series were churned out by nonunion companies relying on freelance employees with no health care. A substantial number of reality shows are still made that way, but nearly 1,000 writers and producers in this corner of television are now union members.