The WGA has filed a second class-action lawsuit over reality TV working conditions, this time against Fox and Rocket Science, with a third lawsuit in the works.
The guild helped a group of writers file a suit last month against ABC, NBC, The WB and TBS for shows including The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Are You Hot? and The Real Gilligan's Island.
Plaintiffs in the new suit against Fox worked for Trading Spouses; Joe Millionaire; The Next Joe Millionaire; My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé; Renovate My Family; Seriously, Dude, I'm Gay; and Married by America.
While the reality shows are unscripted, the writers create and suggest dialogue and situations to goose the entertainment factor and put some words in those "unscripted" mouths.
The new suit alleges that writers were "instructed to falsify timecards, as well as subjected to violations of overtime laws and 15-hour days with no meal periods."
"It's time for Fox and the other major broadcasting companies to step out in the light of day and end these injustices," said WGAw President Daniel Petrie Jr in a statement. "In this case, Fox was in direct creative control of these series and used Rocket Science Laboratories, Inc. as a vehicle for the systemic violations of wage and hour law.
The WGA is planning to file a series of lawsuits, with a third now in the works.
Union officials say they have been “met with silence” so far from the networks and studios since filing the first suit.
The WGA’s ultimate goal is to organize all editors and producers on reality shows, says David Young, the guild’s director of organizing.
The class action suit was filed Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court on behalf of writers and editors who worked on seven Fox “reality” series over the past three years. There are 10 plaintiffs named who will serve as class representatives.
“They work under other job descriptions. No one is called a writer in reality TV to serve the illusion that it is just spontaneously happening,” Petrie said at a Los Angeles press conference Wednesday, attended by more than 30 other writers who allege they were abused at the hands of “reality” producers.
“Whether [the writing] is done in advance, in some cases a 100-page ‘outline,’ which I would call a script, or after the fact in a paper cut, which I would also call a script, or by editors who are writing using raw footage rather than pencil and paper, these storytellers in television do exactly what I do as a storyteller in film,” Petrie says.
“But there is a basic difference. These storytellers do their work without the basic protection of a union contract.”
The suit is based on the concept of “joint employment,” which under California law provides that any company that has direct or indirect control of the wages and working conditions is an employer and legally responsible for labor law violations, according to WGA legal counsel Tony Segall.
“In this case, the evidence of a joint employer relationship between Fox and Rocket Science is particularly compelling,” Segall says. “Although television networks generally and historically like to avoid being characterized as employers--they frequently take the position that they just buy product and broadcast it--the facts here (are) absolutely clear that Fox was involved in every aspect of production of these shows and is therefore, legally speaking, an employer.”
The multiple labor law violations, the WGA asserts, all stem from the plaintiffs working virtually unlimited hours—night and day—without any overtime compensation or appropriate meal periods.
“From show to show, the practice was pretty consistent,” says Segall, who says the total damages will be “substantial” once the WGA can verify pay stubs of the litigants.
One of the plaintiffs at the press conference, Lowell Goodman, who worked on Trading Spaces, says he was told the production schedule was extremely tight, which often led to 12 hour-plus days to produce the show. “Lunch breaks were a rare treat.”
He also charged that staffers were frequently required by supervisors to work six and seven days per week, “often into the wee hours of the night,” and that a show deal memo noted six-day work weeks and that a missed day (even holidays) would not be compensated.
Additionally, he says, workers were instructed to fill out weekly time cards based on a template created by Rocket Science, with specific start times, meal breaks and finishing times, “even though none of these times corresponded to the actual hours worked.”
A Fox spokesman says the network had not yet seen the suit, which was filed Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, but notes the company does not comment on pending litigation.