WGA East Stages Rally to Protest Atlas Media

Hafeez Raji

The company makes “beaucoups of money,” AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka says, but abuses its writers and producers by denying them overtime and health insurance.

In ancient Greece, Atlas held up the world, but in modern-day New York, the WGA East says Atlas Media is holding up negotiations. Eighteen months ago, nonfiction TV writers and producers at the company voted to join the WGAE, but talks – which began last August – have been anything but fleet-footed, as if to echo an ancient philosopher’s argument that motion is impossible.

Seeking to change that dynamic – and end a “race to the bottom” in pay and benefits – about a hundred WGA East members and their supporters staged a rally Friday at the offices of the company, which produces such shows as the Travel Channel’s Hotel Impossible. Their efforts included a faux footrace, and some firepower from the national labor movement.

"We held a ‘race to the top’ and poor old Atlas came in last,” AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka told The Hollywood Reporter shortly after the event.

The company “is making beaucoups of money,” he added, but the employees “work 80 hours a week with no overtime and no pension or health benefits. A model that so abuses its most important assets can’t long endure.”

The company responded Saturday with a statement: "For 14 years, Atlas Media has been one of the few indy non-fiction production companies to actually offer health care and 401k benefits to its employees.  We also continue to search for creative ways to address an industry-wide dilemma: how to bring health care access to temporary freelance workers."

The next talks between the company and the AFL-CIO-affiliated WGAE are scheduled for Monday. The guild also won union elections at three other non-fiction/reality TV production shops, ITV Studios, Lion TV and Optomem. Negotiations with the latter two companies are in process, but ITV has appealed the election results to the National Labor Relations Board.

The key first issue, according to WGAE executive director Lowell Peterson, is health care, with other goals including overtime, wage minimums and paid time off and sick time. A future objective is pension benefits.

“This is an industrywide campaign,” he toldTHR.

Underneath it all, Peterson added, is that the writers want representation – “they want to make sure that someone’s got their back.”

Peterson noted that some non-fiction producers offer some benefits to long-term staff. He attributed this in part to the WGAE’s efforts, saying “our presence has opened people’s eyes.”

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Email: jhandel@att.net

Twitter: @jhandel