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The Report: 'Loser' Labor Standoff

Protesters
Mark Davis/PictureGroup
Strike Force: "Biggest Loser" protesters greet a Maserati at the Nov. 14 rally.

Union pickets NBC hit as reality workers cry foul on benefits.

Television workers are used to getting up early. But about 100 striking crew members of NBC’s The Biggest Loser and their IATSE supporters had an especially early call time Nov. 14. Picketing began at 3:45 a.m. in an attempt to deter replacement workers from entering the state park above Malibu where the series is shot.

Few replacements showed up, suggesting the protest has been somewhat effective in slowing down production on the 11th season of the weight-loss show.

Benefits, not wages, are the issue in the week-old strike.

“The only chance at having pension and health benefits is to have a union,” Rob Hache, a camera operator on the show, tells THR. That, of course, implies a union contract. Among the chants on the picket line was “Contract now!”

Based on formulas provided by IATSE, THR estimates the cost to the employer of providing benefits to be 12%-22% of a worker’s wages, depending on the hourly minimum pay rate.

By comparison, the percentage for SAG and AFTRA is currently 15 percent, which will rise to 16.5 percent July 1, assuming that the new tentative agreement with the studios is ratified.

According to Loser director of photography Vanessa Holtgrewe, the show is about a month into a five-month production schedule. Holtgrewe says workers are asking for treatment similar to those on such hits as Survivor and The Bachelor. If an agreement can’t be reached, picketing could continue throughout the schedule.

Heightening IATSE’s grievance is Loser’s ratings success and the fact that AFTRA and the DGA have union contracts with the show. Those deals, however, cover just a handful of workers. In contrast, the crew comprises 50 camera, wardrobe and other workers.

IATSE is on the move. The below-the-line union also is attempting to organize visual effects artists, few if any of whom are unionized.