'Fashion Police' Strike: E! Defends Joan Rivers, Slams WGA in Letter to Writers (Exclusive)

10:16 AM PST 05/15/2013 by Tricia Romano, Matthew Belloni
E!
"Fashion Police"

UPDATED: "The WGA has convinced you that a strike is necessary in order to gain a union contract, E! president Suzanne Kolb writes in a letter to the writers. "But history at E! has shown that not to be true."

In the network's first major move in a nasty labor standoff, E! president Suzanne Kolb has sent a letter to Fashion Police writers placing blame for the strike on the Writers Guild, defending the show's host Joan Rivers and asking that they reconsider the month-long work stoppage.

"I want to make it clear that E! is not anti-WGA," Kolb writes in the email letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. "We have other WGA shows, and we will negotiate with the guild should you formally elect them as your representative." However, writes Kolb, "We require an NLRB administered election prior to collective bargaining because it is a fair and important part of the process. Although the WGA claims to have a practice of not participating in NLRB elections, they in fact participated in them for Chelsea Lately and The Soup, both of which now have guild deals."

Kolb then places the blame for the strike on the Writers Guild: "The WGA has convinced you that a strike is necessary in order to gain a union contract. But history at E! has shown that not to be true. You are actually losing paychecks because of the guild's dislike of elections."

The WGA did not respond to a request for comment, but previously told The Hollywood Reporter in a statement attributed to the writers that "The election the Company is calling for is a well-known stalling tactic." The statement adds: "By ignoring for weeks our repeated requests for negotiation of a fair deal, E! has forced us to vote with our feet."

This dispute is not unusual. Unions generally argue that the the NLRB election procedures are complex and allow the employer time to file frivolous challenges and to intimidate workers into voting against representation. Employers, in contrast, assert that bypassing elections -- even where a majority of employees have already signed representation cards -- allows the union to intimidate employees.

The company's letter comes as the striking Fashion Police writers plan to hold a benefit show Wednesday night at LA's Laugh Factory comedy club.

The lion’s share of tickets to the benefit have reportedly been bought by E! vp John Najarian and other E! executives. The show stars Fashion Police writers Eliza Skinner, Bryan Cook, Todd Masterson and comedian Bobcat Goldthwait. The proceeds will still go to the staff — on strike since April 17, with a complaint lodged at the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DSLE) for $1 million in back wages.

A message on the Laugh Factory's site shows $20 to $30 advance tickets are sold out -- but Fashion Police staff writer and drag performer Jackie Beat (real name Kent Fuher), says tickets will be available at the door.

STORY: 'Fashion Police' Writer Standoff Takes Toll on Drag Queen

Beat says the writers are continuing with their strike. "The lawsuit is moving forward and E! (Comcast) is still stalling on making the show Guild."

Rivers has participated in a benefit for the striking writers. In her letter, Kolb says the attacks on the host and her production company are unfounded.

"First, Joan Rivers has been and remains emphatically supportive of you," Kolb writes. "And, despite what has been reported to the contrary, her company does not produce Fashion Police nor set the compensation of E! Networks Productions’ writers. The personal attacks on Joan have been grossly unfair and inaccurate as the responsibility of the show lies on my shoulders, not hers."

The full text of the letter is below:

Let me begin by thanking you for the work you have done for Fashion Police, and for your time in reading this letter.  My purpose in writing is to share with you the network's position, as well as correct some of the false information that surrounds this issue, and most importantly reemphasize the resolution that can bring us all to the negotiating table.
 
First, Joan Rivers has been and remains emphatically supportive of you.  And, despite what has been reported to the contrary, her company does not produce Fashion Police nor set the compensation of E! Networks Productions’ writers.  The personal attacks on Joan have been grossly unfair and inaccurate as the responsibility of the show lies on my shoulders, not hers.
 
Additionally, I want to make it clear that E! is not anti-WGA. We have other WGA shows, and we will negotiate with the guild should you formally elect them as your representative.  We require an NLRB administered election prior to collective bargaining because it is a fair and important part of the process.  Although the WGA claims to have a practice of not participating in NLRB elections, they in fact participated in them for Chelsea Lately and The Soup, both of which now have guild deals.  The WGA has convinced you that a strike is necessary in order to gain a union contract. But history at E! has shown that not to be true. You are actually losing paychecks because of the guild's dislike of elections.
 
This leads me to ask you, why strike over an election if you believe the vote will be in favor of representation?  Please reconsider striking over something as democratic as an election. There will be no resolution to this matter without one.
 
Thank you,
Suzanne
 

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