Guild Files Suit on Behalf of Fox Reality Storytellers
On Aug. 24 the Guild held a news conference announcing that 10 editors and writers from reality television had filed a wage-and-hour class action suit against Fox Broadcasting and the reality production company Rocket Science Laboratories.
The case, filed on behalf of storytellers from seven Fox reality shows, including Joe Millionaire and Trading Spouses, alleges that Fox and the production company violated California labor laws by denying employees overtime pay and instructing them to falsify time cards.
Three of the named plaintiffs spoke to reporters. More than 30 reality editors and writers stood behind the plaintiffs as they discussed sweatshop conditions in the reality industry.
Victoria Dew, a story producer on Renovate My Family and one of the plaintiffs in the case, said short workdays on the series were 15 hours long. Dew added, “Anyone who left before midnight was considered a slacker.”
Zachary Isenberg, another plaintiff, said he was routinely required to work as many as 80 hours a week. His weekly pay as a story assistant averaged $900.
“I don’t mind working hard,” said Isenberg, a story assistant on Renovate My Family. “I do mind being taken advantage of.”
WGAw President Daniel Petrie Jr. said that while their titles may be different, these writers and editors do similar work as Guild members and deserve similar treatment.
At the Aug. 24 news conference, reality TV writers support the class action lawsuit filed by the WGAw against Fox and Rocket Science.
“Whether the writing is done in advance, in some cases as a 100-page outline—which I would consider a script—or after the fact in a paper cut or editors using footage to create a story rather than pencil or paper, these storytellers in television do exactly what I do in film,” said Petrie. “The key difference is they do it without the basic protections given to members of the WGA.”
The case against Fox and Rocket Science follows a suit filed in July alleging that Next Entertainment as well as CBS, ABC, WB, and TBS engaged in similar wage and hour abuses.
Both suits are based in part on the concept of “joint employment.” California law stipulates that a company that exercises either direct or indirect control over work conditions is an employer and will be held legally responsible for any labor law violations. “The facts here are absolutely clear that Fox was involved in every aspect of production of these shows,” said WGA legal counsel Tony Segall.
The lawsuits are part of a larger campaign strategy to win recognition for reality storytellers. Nearly 1,000 writers, producers, and editors in reality TV have signed authorization cards to be represented by the WGAw. So far their demand for recognition has been met with silence from the entertainment conglomerates and the reality production companies.
Segall said there is no shortage of labor law violations in the reality industry and more lawsuits are being planned that pose an enormous potential liability for the networks. “If the industry wants to come to its senses and clear up these problems,” said Segall, “the Guild is willing and ready to negotiate.”
Reality Writers Sue Major Networks and Production Companies for Violations of California Labor Laws