100 Picketers Protest Replacement Workers on ‘Biggest Loser’

With cries of 'scab,' striking crew and supporters confront vehicles entering the production site Monday morning.

About 100 Biggest Loser crew members and IATSE supporters picketed the show’s production location in the Santa Monica Mountains above Malibu before dawn Monday.

The glare of television lights and powerful lighting brought in by picketers illuminated the scene until the sun came up.

The union and crew members are seeking a union contract, primarily in order to provide the 50-member crew with pension and health benefits. Mike Miller, an IATSE vice-president, called the lack of benefits “unbearable.”

A camera operator on the show, Rob Hache, commented that “the only chance at having pension and health benefits is to have a union.”

Based on formulas provided by the union, THR estimates the cost to the employer of providing benefits to be 12% to 22% of a worker’s wages, depending on the individual’s hourly minimum pay rate. It would be difficult to calculate an average without knowing the makeup of the crew.

By comparison, the comparable percentage for SAG and AFTRA is currently 15%, which will rise to 16.5% on July 1, assuming (as is almost certain) that the new tentative agreement reached with the studios is approved by the unions’ joint board and ratified by the membership.

The Loser picketing began at 3:45 a.m. in an attempt to head off potential early arrival of replacement workers hired by the NBC show’s production entities, Reveille Productions, 25/7 Productions and 3 Ball Productions.

However, by 7:00 a.m., fewer than a dozen vehicles had entered the state park where Loser is shot, in each case prompting cries of “scab!” and “turn around!” In a few cases, picketers slapped the vehicles, but THR observed no injuries or apparent property damage. The picketing was orderly, and the vehicles were permitted to enter.

A union spokesperson said she believed the show was shooting with a reduced crew, and speculated that the footage would be unusable. A spokesperson for NBC declined to comment at this time, and a spokesperson for the production entities could not be reached.

According to Loser DP Vanessa Holtgrewe, the show is about 1 month into an estimated 5 month production schedule. Holtgrewe said she hoped the union and management would sit down and reach agreement. She added that if they didn’t, she hoped picketing would continue throughout the remainder of the production schedule.

Loser is in its 11th production season. The 10th season is currently airing.