WGA East Accuses ITV Studios of Failing to Pay Overtime

5:21 PM PST 02/27/2014 by Jonathan Handel
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The union calls it "stealing" and highlights the contrast with surging profits at the parent company.

ITV Studios, America -- the producer of reality series such as Nat Geo WILD's Cesar 911, A&E's The First 48 and TLC's Four Weddings -- is accused by the Writers Guild of America East of "stealing an average $30,000 annually from each of its writers and producers," the guild said in a statement on Thursday.

The accusations appeared just a day after parent company ITV reported a 27 percent increase in profits for 2013, boosted in part by the U.S. operation.

STORY: U.K.'s ITV 2013 Financials Rise Amid Growth at TV Production Arm

The guild said that a survey of ITV employees, conducted by WGAE, found that writers and producers work 10 hours per day, six to seven days per week for months at a time.

"Our goal in organizing writer-producers in nonfiction TV is to enhance their ability to build sustainable careers," said WGAE executive director Lowell Peterson. "Companies like ITV simply cannot insist that employees devote every waking moment to the company, month in and month out."

The union called on ITV to pay its employees overtime and to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement that resembles contracts the union has reached with other companies that produce nonfiction basic cable television programs. The WGAE represents the several dozen writer-producers working out of ITV's New York offices.

In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, a spokesperson for the company said, "ITV Studios America is in ongoing talks with the WGA East and has no further comment at this stage."

The union said its survey of current and former ITV employees found that "people worked huge amounts of overtime without any additional compensation, despite federal and state wage and hour laws requiring overtime pay." Until recently, said the guild, ITV refused to pay overtime to eligible employees -- for example, associate producers on shows like Four Weddings -- even though the company's own time records show that these employees sometimes work 60 to 80 hours a week. ITV finally relented two weeks ago, said the union, and began paying all associate producers at the rate of time-and-a-half for all hours worked over 40 in a week.

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"It is difficult to think of this as anything other than an admission that overtime-eligible employees are owed many thousands of dollars in unpaid overtime for their extreme work schedules over the years," said Peterson. "The company changed its practices only because the employees have a collective voice at the table with the WGAE. We have to make sure these gains are reflected in a reasonable collective bargaining agreement, or the company will inevitably resort to its bad old ways of doing business."

ITV's writer-producers voted for WGAE representation in 2010, said the union, and the company's appeals were dismissed by the National Labor Relations Board in 2012. Since then, bargaining unit employees have participated extensively in negotiations, but no collective bargaining agreement has been reached.

The WGAE is seeking such terms as employer-provided health benefits, minimum compensation levels, union security, a grievance and arbitration mechanism, provisions for paid time off, and a guaranteed number of days free from work responsibilities.

"These are the kinds of provisions that enable people to earn a reasonable living doing work they care about without sacrificing their health or their families' well-being," said Peterson.

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