IATSE vote puts 'Model' on union track


"America's Next Top Model," emblematic of recent efforts to organize reality television, took a giant step toward becoming a more fully unionized production Monday as IATSE won a key representation vote.

In a 36-1 vote supervised by the National Labor Relations Board, IATSE has succeeded in organizing production and preproduction employees on the CW's top-rated program. The representation election creates a collective-bargaining unit for 60 employees of the Tyra Banks-hosted show.

Those affected are full-time and regular part-time workers in the art, audio, camera and lighting departments; hair/makeup, lighting tech and wardrobe staff; production office coordinators and assistants; and accounting personnel. They will join IATSE locals, officials said.

"This election points up the importance of bottoms-up organizing and grass-roots representation," IATSE president Thomas Short said. "These employees have always belonged in the IA, and we are pleased to bargain on their behalf."

IATSE Local 700 already has a contract in place representing "Top Model" editors. Production assistants, casting department staff, drivers, managers, office clerical employees, guards and supervisors were excluded from Monday's representation vote.

Meanwhile, an NLRB decision is still awaited on the WGA's claim that 12 writer-producers at "Model" were fired illegally after striking for the right to join the WGA. IATSE also claims jurisdictional rights over work done by the strikers, but the NLRB won't rule on the WGA-IATSE jurisdictional dispute until first ruling on the WGA's illegal-firing charge against "Model" executive producer Ken Mok and his Anisa Prods.

Elsewhere among show-organizing efforts, Teamsters Local 399 recently struck a collective-bargaining agreement covering "Model" drivers and location managers.

The organizing efforts at "Model" are part of a broader campaign by Hollywood unions to organize reality television.

Much reality programming remains nonunion and is viewed as potential network filler fare in the event of a strike by TV writers or actors. But unions including IATSE, the Teamsters and the DGA have made steady progress with reality organizing efforts during the past year.

The WGA West made support for striking "storytellers" on "Top Model" central to its reality organizing efforts, even staging a protest rally that drew 800 people to Pan-Pacific Park in September (HR 9/21). So the outcome of the guild's jurisdictional fight on that show will be closely watched in the Hollywood labor community.