WGA Calls Reality 'Scripted Sweatshop'

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Trying to force reality producers, studios and networks into a collective bargaining agreement for reality TV writers, producers and editors, the Writers Guild of America, west (WGAw), today delivered a blistering attack as it launched an industrywide public organizing campaign.

"This is the most aggressive organizing effort the Guild has undertaken since its founding," Daniel Petrie Jr., WGAw president, said in a statement. "The secret about reality TV isn't that it's scripted, which it is; the secret is that reality TV is a 21st-century telecommunications industry sweatshop."

Ever since more than 500 people attended a May 7 organizing meeting at the WGA Theater in Beverly Hills, the guild said, it has received nearly 1,000 signed authorization cards from writers, producers, and editors who work in reality television and want to be represented by the WGAw.

Based on that response, the guild sent a demand letter for recognition to the major reality production companies, around 70 in all. A WGA spokeswoman said the guild received a "few responses" after it sent the letters but none have yet agreed to negotiate.

"This is why we now are taking our campaign public," Petrie said. "The creative men and women who make reality television possible work without health and pension benefits or minimum salary protections or residuals. They often work under oppressive conditions, among them near universal indifference to and noncompliance with state and federal overtime laws. The Writers Guild is committed to seeing the end of this 'Holly-Mart.'

The guild claims companies that are signatories to its basic agreement "have chosen to engage in non-union production of reality TV. The conglomerates, the broadcast and cable networks, and the reality production companies that reap the profits from licensing and product integration deals are ignoring the rights of the men and women who work for them."

We sincerely hope that the industry agrees to sit down immediately and right these wrongs," Petrie said. " If the industry refuses, we are prepared to take the actions necessary to achieve our goals and to assist the reality TV workforce as they seek enforcement of state and federal overtime laws."

So far, there has been no official response from networks or producers, which were apparently caught off guard by the announcement.

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