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A group of producers at BSTV Entertainment, the shingle behind Food Network projects like The Kitchen and Trisha’s Southern Kitchen, is attempting to unionize.
A majority of the collection of 19 workers (whom the guild is calling writer-producers) at the Montclair, New Jersey-based development and production company have signed union cards in an attempt to join the Writers Guild of America East, the union announced Monday. The WGA East is calling on management at the company to voluntarily recognize the group, a means of unionizing that avoids a formal National Labor Relations Board election. Eater was the first to report the news.
The Hollywood Reporter has reached out to BSTV Entertainment for comment.
In a request for voluntary recognition sent to management on Monday, workers cited the success of Food Network’s The Kitchen, as well as alleged labor issues that have emerged on the show, as a motivator to unionize. “Our pay rates have been cut or frozen. We have lost our health insurance during a global pandemic. We have lost benefits. And due to a drastically reduced schedule, we are now asked to create the same innovative product in a fraction of the time, with fewer staff,” the group said. (According to a coordinating producer quoted in Eater, a number of the group was converted from full-time to freelance status in 2020, and therefore lost health insurance.) The workers added, “Contrary to BSTV’s progressive and feminist public mission, women, specifically women of color, have faced pay and promotion discrimination.”
The Kitchen, which premiered in 2014 and is hosted by chefs Sunny Anderson and Jeff Mauro, usually reaches more than 1 million viewers per episode, a benchmark that remains high for the network.
If the group does manage to successfully unionize, it will endeavor to raise wage minimums and promote pay transparency, push for the company to take part in a portable health insurance program (a plan that workers can take from job to job) and change scheduling practices and communication, workers said in their Monday letter. Among other allegations, the group says that the company has “used individual salary negotiations to under-compensate our expertise and pit us against one another” and “asked us to shoulder expenses which are necessary for the company to run like equipment and travel costs.”
The push at BSTV Entertainment marks the WGA East’s latest effort to make inroads in the largely nonunion sphere of unscripted entertainment. After the guild unionized its first unscripted shops (Lion Television and Optomen Productions) around 10 years ago, it now has additional unions at Jigsaw Productions, VICELAND, Vox Entertainment, NBC News Service and Sharp Entertainment.
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