EXCLUSIVE: Union Starts Picketing 'Biggest Loser'

Fifty crew members walk off Wednesday's shoot; the group is demanding a union contract for the reality show with pension and health benefits.

A union drama unfolded Wednesday in the Santa Monica Mountains high above Malibu as a small group of below-the-line workers picketed at the state park where NBC's The Biggest Loser is produced.

Crew members and their IATSE supporters are demanding a union contract for the reality show. Wages and working conditions are not the issue, sources told THR; pension and health benefits are.

Loser, now in its 10th season, is a show about nutrition and fitness. Erin Barrow, the show's wardrobe supervisor, commented that "on a show that's about health, to not offer a health plan flies in the face of what (the show) is doing."

In a statement, IATSE confirmed that it is on strike against Loser and its production entities, Reveille Prods., 25/7 Prods. and 3 Ball Prods.

Said IATSE international president Matthew D. Loeb: "This is a top-rated primetime television show, and the crew remains unified. The strike is the result of a unanimous decision by members of the production crew that they get a contract similar to others covering these types of productions, and we are resolute in getting it for them."

The show has about 50 crew members, some of whom are union members. All voted to walk off the production and have done so. Sources told THR that production of the show has been halted.

The picket lines at two gates amounted to only about a dozen people, most of whom were not members of the Loser crew. However, sources indicated to THR that picketing was likely to resume Thursday and continue until a union contract is obtained.

According to the IATSE statement, AFTRA and the DGA already have agreements with the production.

Pension and health coverage has emerged as a major issue for Hollywood unions. In the tentative deal they made with the studios last weekend, SAG and AFTRA achieved a 1.5% increase in employer P&H contributions, which is three times higher than customary.

The DGA, which begins negotiations with the studios next week, has publicly identified pension and health as their major contract issue. Likewise, the WGA indicated that P&H was one of its major issues. Both unions will probably achieve the same increase obtained by SAG and AFTRA, a mirroring effect known as "pattern bargaining."

Representatives for NBC and Reveille declined to comment.