By Tris Carpenter
Organizing in Reality television rounded a significant corner this summer, as two major efforts paid off within days of each other. The first was a drive to organize three shows at Mark Burnett Productions in Los Angeles; the second, a long-running effort to bring Editors Guild representation to True Entertainment in New York. I’m very pleased to tell you that both wound up in the win column. Let’s begin with the Burnett shows. Back in the spring, Editors Guild representatives held a couple of large meetings with some editors and assistant editors on the past season of The Apprentice. Of course, as the season drew to a close, it became clear that more time was needed and the drive was shelved until the next season started.
In May, shows started crewing up again, and in June, editorial staff on The Apprentice, The Apprentice: Martha Stewart and Rock Star: INXS started signing IATSE Authorization Cards. Since each show was produced by a separate “shell” company, the Guild needed to establish a significant majority on each show. We reached our goal in mid-July, and notified the company and offered to demonstrate that majority by submitting the cards to an arbitrator who would confidentially verify the signatures and count the cards. The company agreed to such a count, and on July 29, the arbitrator certified that the three Mark Burnett Productions shows had officially gone union by a significant majority. Nearly 80 post-production professionals work on these shows.
On the East Coast, editors and assistant editors at True Entertainment began organizing in earnest in the spring of this year, but the discussion had been going on long before that. In fact, I had sat down with editors at True to think about how to organize that company when I was running The New York Times Television campaign in 2001. It took a lot of time to find people who were willing to work to change True rather than just leave and find somewhere else to work!
The importance is in the fact that such high-level network shows have decided that the Editors Guild is the way to go.
This time around, Annie Ballard, our Field Representative in New York, carried much of the water on this campaign, as she did all the initial organizing to help get the drive on its feet. We hired our new Eastern Region Organizing Coordinator, Jesus Sanchez, just about the time that we filed for a National Labor Relations Board election. Because of his extensive organizing experience, Sanchez was able to take over the day-to-day running of the campaign almost immediately, and managed to hold together an impressive 33-17 victory in the face of a difficult “Vote No” push by the employer. The vote was finalized on August 4.
Now, more than 70 picture editors and their assistants, working on such True shows as ABC’s Worlds Apart and TLC’s Town Haul and A Baby Story, as well as Whose Wedding Is It Anyway?, Go Ahead Make My Dinner, Gastineau Girls, Operation Homecoming, Single Again, Double Design, Guess Who’s Coming to Decorate and Mystery Diagnosis, among others, will have Editors Guild representation. The importance of each of these campaigns is clear. True Entertainment is extremely prolific. They are always producing something, and many editors in New York have worked on their projects at one time or another. They have begun to push into network shows (Worlds Apart) and have a couple of multi-season shows going on Discovery/TLC (Town Haul and A Baby Story.) The fact is that True Entertainment is a solid company that produces plenty of television shows, and having them go union helps us build toward more organizing in New York.
As for the Mark Burnett Productions shows, the importance is in the fact that such high-level network shows have decided that the Editors Guild is the way to go. Yes, we have organized network reality television before (Big Brother comes to mind first), but to be able to organize three shows from such a prominent producer is a sign that things are changing in Reality television. We are looking forward to beginning the hard work of negotiating a deal with Burnett—a process that likely will have begun by the time you read this.
More shows are contacting us about organizing, and by next issue I should be able to bring you up to speed on these new drives. Hopefully, I can also share with you a report from some successful negotiations. If you are interested in getting more information about how to organize your show, please give us a call.