Last week’s lawsuit alleging that the writers and editors on seven reality television shows were routinely denied overtime compensation is not the first time such claims have been made by the Writers Guild of America West.
The guild backed similar allegations in a suit filed last month in Los Angeles Superior Court on behalf of a dozen story editors and associate producers on eight separate reality shows. In that case, the workers alleged they were denied overtime while working on shows including, “The Bachelor,” “Trista and Ryan’s Wedding” and “The Will.”
Last week, the WGA West announced the second suit, also filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, which involved 10 story editors, assistants and producers who worked on seven reality shows that were produced by Rocket Science Laboratories LLC and Fox Broadcasting Co. The shows include “Trading Spouses,” “Joe Millionaire” and “Married by America.”
The plaintiffs claim that the shows’ producers have systematically denied overtime to a potential class action of 200 “story tellers” on reality television, said Anthony Segall, partner at Pasadena-based Rothner Segall & Greenstone that filed the two separate suits.
Segall said the staff members were paid $600 to $2,200 a week; most worked 60 to 70 hours a week, often six days a week. He added that the producers often falsified time records to hide the alleged overtime abuses.
The suits also claim that the workers were denied the appropriate number of meal breaks under state law.
“In a unionized workplace, there are provisions of the union agreement that cover overtime,” Segall said. “Some of these people who are working on these shows are WGA members, but they are not WGA shows.”
WGA, which announced last week’s suit, is not a named plaintiff in either suit but has been attempting to unionize writers on reality television shows.
“We’ve had an organizing campaign in reality TV programming for quite a few months,” said Cheryl Rhoden, the guild’s assistant executive director. “We have almost 1,000 authorization cards by writers, producers and editors for almost every reality show on the air asking the Writers Guild to represent them for collective bargaining purposes. As part of their effort, we’re supporting them in filing these wage and hour claims.”
Spokespersons for the defendants in the earlier suit, Next Entertainment Inc., Time Warner Inc.’s WB Broadcasting Network and Viacom Inc.’s CBS, declined comment. Walt Disney Co.’s ABC unit, another defendant, issued a statement saying there is “absolutely no merit to these allegations” and that ABC has filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board against the Writers Guild of America East alleging they refused “to bargain in good faith.”