Dan Petrie Going Public With Reality Organizing

Written by Daniel Petrie Jr., Former President, Writers Guild of America, west

Last month the Writers Guild commissioned a professional phone poll of our members on a broad range of issues of concern to the Guild. One issue stood out: Organizing. More than 91 percent of our members responded that organizing reality and animation writers should be a Guild priority. That is good news for us here at the Guild, since for close to a year now we've been working very hard, albeit quietly and behind the scenes, to further that goal.

Now, with this special issue of Member News, we're ready to go public with our campaign to organize the writers, producers, and editors–in short, the storytellers–of reality television. Under labor law, an employee wishing to be represented by a union, in this case the WGA, west, signs a card declaring that intent. Thanks to the efforts of our organizing committee and staff, and particularly to the efforts of the reality TV storytellers themselves, we now have signed cards representing a substantial majority of the people who write and edit reality shows. Over the next months, your Guild will work actively and aggressively to bring the benefits of a WGA contract to these storytellers.

This special issue reports on both the campaign itself and the issues surrounding it. You'll also see various ways in which reality shows are written and the differences and similarities between work in reality and in traditionally scripted TV writing.

We're organizing in reality because it's the right thing to do. The writers, producers, and editors of this genre need our help. These people work long, hard hours getting their shows on the air without any of the benefits our members have, including (but by no means limited to) healthcare and a pension plan. This is something we must address.

Organizing the storytellers of reality television is in the Guild's self-interest as well. Reality TV has almost certainly become a permanent fixture in the television firmament. Clearly our position at the bargaining table is weakened to the extent that such a significant component of TV programming is not represented by us. By the same token, if we can succeed and get these storytellers of reality what they justifiably deserve, then when we go back into negotiations for a 2007 MBA, our position will be enhanced.

We believe that all storytellers working in film, television and new media should be represented by the Writers Guild. We're not forgetting about animation or nonfiction or new media or independent film or other areas we wish to organize. Today's fight, though, is reality. I urge you to read about, get involved and support this vital effort.

Organizing Reality TV