WGA East Claims Unionization Victory at Lion TV

Writers and producers at the non-fiction shop vote 23-22 for WGAE representation, but challenged votes remain to be counted and company calls claim "entirely incorrect."

The WGA East says it scored another victory in its campaign to organize non-fiction writers, announcing that the union won an NLRB vote at Lion TV by 23 Yes to 22 No – but the company disputes the result.

Lion CEO Tony Tackaberry said the matter is not settled. “The notion that they have won is entirely incorrect.” Tackaberry tells The Hollywood Reporter, adding that the NLRB has yet to certify the vote – which the WGAE acknowledged – and that 24 additional votes have been challenged and thus have not yet been counted.

According to Tackaberry, most of the challenges were by the WGAE, not the company. If so, that implies that the challenged votes would be more likely to help the company, not the guild, if the NLRB rules that those voters are eligible. Tackaberry said the company was optimistic that it would prevail.

Justin Molito, the WGAE's director of organizing, disagreed, telling THR in an email that “The WGAE did challenge votes from people, we believe, (who) were not eligible to vote but were put on the list by Lion TV. These people include interns, supervisors, and people working offsite and not part of the bargaining unit. While we are challenging these votes, we do not believe our challenges will change the outcome of the election.”

Molito also charged that Lion “has been manipulating the voter list for several month and is now challenging some votes for reasons such as unreadable signatures. This is a  delaying tactic and is meant to disenfranchise unit members.”

In a statement, the guild said that the employees are seeking healthcare, pensions, improved compensation and reasonable working hours. In addition, Molito said that the WGA will ask for residuals.

While not directly addressing the guild’s criticism, Tackaberry countered, “We feel our rates and working conditions are competitive in the industry.”

Lion TV produces shows such as Cash Cab for Discovery Network, Megadrive for MTV, and History Detectives and America Revealed for PBS. According to the guild, the Lion bargaining unit would include almost 100 people employed as writers, producers, associate producers and researchers.

This is the third NLRB election the guild has conducted in its year-old campaign to organize the largely non-unionized non-fiction sector of the TV industry. The other two were at Atlas Media (Biography, Dr. G: Medical Examiner, American Eats) and ITV Studios (The First 48 and Four Weddings). The NLRB has certified the Atlas vote and the WGAE said the ITV vote “should be certified soon.” The Atlas bargaining unit is 50 people and ITV would be 100 people, according to Molito

The union expressed confidence in the Lion results. “We look forward to working with (the Lion employees) to improve their conditions and we welcome them into our creative community. We hope Lion will respect their decision and will begin productive negotiations with us as soon as possible,” said WGAE Executive Director Lowell Peterson.

WGAE President Michael Winship, himself a non-fiction writer, commented that guild membership “can be the difference between having health insurance and pension contributions or being out there entirely on your own.”

Pension and health have emerged over the last two years as issues for represented employees as well. In their recently ratified studio contracts, SAG, AFTRA and the DGA achieved larger than usual increases in employer P&H contributions. The WGA has also identified this as a goal for their new studio contract. (The union has not yet set a date for negotiation of the new contract with the studios; the current contract expires May 1.)

The guild charged that Lion engaged in “a long aggressive anti-union campaign.” Molito elaborated, alleging that “The company did what all companies who hire anti-union consultants do: captive audience meetings, supervisors calling and meeting with current and former employees urging them to vote no, trying to manipulate the NLRB process to disenfranchise voters – the standard fear tactics.”

The company, in contrast, said it had had “a very good and positive discussion’ with its employees. Those differences in characterization are common during unionization campaigns.