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The Alex Gibney-founded nonfiction production company Jigsaw Productions has voluntarily recognized a union with the Writers Guild of America, East, the union announced on Tuesday as it continues to expand its nonfiction footprint.
The Jigsaw Productions union covers 50 freelance employees in roles including associate producer, co-producer, field producer, segment producer, post producer and others that the union did not identify. Unionizing employees previously advocated for producers, showrunners, production managers and production accountants to be included, but not all titles that the union initially hoped to join the bargaining unit were ultimately included.
Jigsaw Organizing Committee member Hannah Smith said in a statement, “We, the Jigsaw freelancers, are moved by this announcement. As one of the leaders in documentary filmmaking, Jigsaw Productions has been a vessel for our creative aspirations. We are thrilled to begin our next step: negotiating a strong contract that will help bring about change across our industry.”
Jigsaw Productions co-owner Gibney added in his own statement, “We, at Jigsaw Productions are delighted to work with the WGAE and the freelance employees to try to come up with a contract that can become a model for the non-fiction industry to follow.”
Following freelancers employed by the company announcing that a majority had signed union cards in May, the group has said that the primary concerns they want to address in unionizing are diversity and inclusion, pay, credits and fostering more sustainable working conditions. Unionizing employees also have said they were inspired by Jigsaw’s own content — as the producer of investigative titles like HBO’s The Crime of the Century and The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley and Netflix’s How to Fix a Drug Scandal — to endeavor to make changes internally. “Recognizing our union is an opportunity for @JigsawProds to align its brand and internal business practices to the progressive values they show in their content,” the Jigsaw Freelancers Union account tweeted in July.
While unionizing employees were in talks with Jigsaw Productions, the Jigsaw Freelancers Union Twitter account shared testimonials from what it said were anonymous freelancers at the company, speaking about diversity concerns, promotions and long working hours. The account tweeted at one point that Jigsaw adheres to a “flat-rate” model where workers are not paid for overtime or working on the weekends, and that the company had not agreed to a five-day work week. (Working hours and wage battles aren’t uncommon in the non-union nonfiction space: 85 percent of respondents to a Nonfiction “Union” survey of nonfiction and documentary television workers in 2020 said they had worked overtime and weekends without overtime pay in the previous five years.) “We love our work, but the nature of production should not be exploitation,” the account tweeted. Jigsaw Productions did not reply to The Hollywood Reporter‘s request for comment.
WGA East executive director Lowell Peterson said in a statement that this union presents “an opportunity to work with the company to address workplace concerns there and to demonstrate that there are alternatives to the exploitive conditions that prevail in the nonfiction TV industry.” Peterson added, “Audiences watch more and more nonfiction content on television and on SVOD, and the people who create that content merit better pay, hours, benefits, and conditions – and a more equitable and inclusive environment at their workplaces and in their careers. We welcome the freelance employees at Jigsaw to this effort and to the WGAE.”
The WGA East, now led once more by non-fiction writer Michael Winship, has been steadily organizing nonfiction shops for about a decade. Lion TV, Sharp Entertainment, Vox Entertainment, Vice, NBC News Service and ITV Kirkstall/Leftfield now all have WGA East shops. The union says on its website that “the top priority for the Nonfiction Campaign is new organizing at more production companies — especially those companies that work on programming for streaming platforms like Netflix.”
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