WGA East, Atlas Media Talks Break Down

WGA East Logo NEW - H 2012

WGA East Logo NEW - H 2012

More than a year of negotiations have not resulted in a contract so far.

The WGA East’s ongoing efforts to reach an agreement with Atlas Media broke down Friday, with charges and countercharges flying. Atlas, producer of such nonfiction shows as the Travel Channel’s Hotel Impossible, claims that “an overwhelming majority” of its producers, associate producers and coordinating producers presented a petition this week to remove the WGA East as bargaining representative.

Atlas also claims that receipt of the petition requires Atlas to withdraw recognition of the union immediately.

Meanwhile, the WGAE accuses Atlas of union busting by coercion and intimidation and has filed an unfair labor practices charge with the federal government. The guild also asserts that employees have been improperly characterized as independent contractors and that the company has failed to pay overtime.

Atlas claims that the ULP charge is without merit.

Said Atlas Media executive vp and GM Jeanne McHale-Waite, “Based on the petition presented to us, it is crystal clear that the vast majority of Atlas Media producers, associate producers and coordinating producers want the freedom to bargain directly with Atlas Media when it comes to terms and conditions of employment."

Said Justin Molito, organizing director of the guild: “Atlas Media Corporation is operating as if labor law does not exist in NYC. The WGAE will not stand by and allow Atlas Media to ignore labor law and trample on the rights of creative professionals.”

It was not immediately possible to verify each side’s factual claims. As to the accuracy of Atlas’s claim regarding the law -- i.e., that an employee petition is sufficient to require the company to withdraw recognition -- a management-side entertainment labor attorney not involved in the matter said that the company’s position was consistent with the attorney’s recollection. (The alternate mechanism for employees to express such a preference is by way of a formal decertification election.)

The WGAE has been actively organizing the nonfiction/reality TV sector and achieved contracts in July with Lion Television and Optomen Productions. However, it has been bargaining with Atlas for more than a year with no success.

Not infrequently, ULP charges end up being withdrawn in the wake of later, successful negotiations. However, it’s often hard to know when or whether negotiations will resume.

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