Unions woo 'Model' ranks

WGA, IATSE vie to organize show

A tug of war between the WGA and IATSE continues over "America's Next Top Model."

The CW reality show has become a flashpoint of labor strife amid industrywide efforts to organize various sorts of workers on largely nonunion reality TV shows. A dozen so-called storytellers on "Top Model" walked off their jobs in July to demand representation by the WGA.

Show producers refused, insisting on a protracted National Labor Relations Board organizing process. That's where IATSE comes in.

IATSE already represents several "Top Model" editors, and in an NLRB hearing held Oct. 25-26, the union contested the WGA's petition for a representation election. The union argued that the kind of work done by the striking employees already is covered under IATSE's "Top Model" contract.

The striking employees are sometimes referred to as writer-producers because they weave story lines from reams of film and video.

The jurisdictional squabble between the unions comes as producers prepare to resume production for another batch of episodes. It has been expected that replacements would be hired for the striking workers, but sources said it's now likely production work will be restructured to avoid any immediate need for new hiring while an NLRB hearing decision is awaited, perhaps coming this month.

CW chief operating officer John Maatta promised network affiliates in August that a "contingency plan will be developed" to ensure new episodes for January and beyond, even if the labor strife remained unsettled. The Tyra Banks-hosted show helped launch the fledgling CW in September, and the first 13 episodes of the show were shot before the summer walkout.

The WGA supported a "Top Model" picket line maintained until the show went into production hiatus, and the guild claimed, at least publicly, that the IATSE supported its efforts to organize reality show employees. But behind the scenes, a turf war between the unions has been evident.

Contestants for a new show are set to begin reporting next week, a well-placed source said. A CW spokesman declined comment.

Banks, a member of SAG and AFTRA, has said she supports the right of the workers to organize but insists she can't control the situation. "Top Model" is produced by executive producer Ken Mok's 10 by 10 Entertainment and Banks' Bankable Prods.

Meanwhile, the Teamsters also have signaled an intent to sign up some employees on "Top Model," as the blue-collar union makes reality organizing a higher priority.

"There was a sense that the reality genre was just a passing fancy," Teamsters Local 399 organizer Steve Dayan said. "But the time has come, and it would be short-sighted of us not to pursue organizing these types of productions."

Dayan added that an unspecified job action against "Top Model" could be in the offing.