Judge: WGAW right in NBC flap


An administrative judge has recommended that the National Labor Relation Board dismiss unfair labor charges filed by NBC against the WGA for encouraging writers on "The Office," "Heroes" and other shows to refuse work on webisodes unless granted adequate compensation.

The NLRB had issued a formal complaint following NBC's filing of its charges, and a hearing was held in December.

But in his ruling disclosed Wednesday, Judge Gregory Meyerson noted that "unions have a First Amendment right to communicate with their members." So the WGA West's appealing to member showrunners to shun the webisode work pending deal terms did not amount to inappropriate coercion or restraint, Meyerson said.

The ruling effectively means the NLRB will dismiss the charges unless an appeal is filed. An NBC spokesman said no decision on an appeal yet had been made.

The WGAW lauded the judge's recommendation that NBC's complaint be dismissed in its entirety.

"Our focus remains on reaching a fair, negotiated settlement for work in these new technology markets to the mutual benefit of writers and the companies for which they work," WGAW executive director David Young said.

NBC also issued a statement.

"While we disagree and are disappointed with the judge's decision, we are pleased that it serves to clarify that the guild cannot prevent the showrunners from performing the type of supervisory services necessary to create Web content," an NBC spokesman said.

The NBC-WGA dispute arose last year when NBC announced plans to produce webisodes based on a handful of primetime shows. The WGAW balked, noting terms of compensation were in doubt and represented a gray area in its relations with the networks and producers.

Similar situations remain nagging sore points for all of the talent unions. Their demands for greater compensation for such work -- or in some instances, any compensation whatever -- have been met with network characterizations of many new-media projects as experimental or promotional and outside the bounds of collective-bargaining agreements.

Even a recently announced pact with Canadian actors contains an escape clause for Hollywood productions based north of the border. The new Independent Production Agreement frees U.S. studios and their affiliates from first-time terms of compensation for forms of new-media reuse, which will apply to Canadian productions.