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By Michael Rose
Sept. 22 — Television producers at a Comcast NBCUniversal Inc. subsidiary voted for union representation by the Writers Guild of America East.
The National Labor Relations Board-supervised election among freelance and “run-of-show” producers who worked on nonfiction TV shows at Peacock Productions took place in 2013, but the ballots were impounded until the board ruled in late August that the workers were eligible for unionization.
NBCUniversal had argued that the producers were supervisors and therefore weren’t covered by the National Labor Relations Act.
The union won the election on a vote of 47-38, according to a tally of ballots posted Sept. 22 on the NLRB website.
The WGAE has been engaged in a long-term effort to organize producers of nonfiction and reality television shows, and the recent NLRB decision in its favor could make it easier to organize similar groups of workers.
An NBCUniversal spokesman declined to comment on the results of the vote Sept. 22. Peacock Productions produces documentary and reality shows for the Weather Channel and MSNBC cable networks.
Lowell Peterson, executive director of the WGAE, told Bloomberg BNA that no one expected the proceedings to take so long but that NBC “decided to play lawyer games” by challenging the eligibility of the workers to unionize.
“We knew, ultimately, that we would be at this point,” Peterson said. The union’s victory at Peacock Productions shows that the WGAE has “momentum” for future organizing among nonfiction and reality show employees, he said.
“We’ve been doing employer-by-employer NLRB elections, but it’s really an industrywide campaign,” especially because many of the producers on these types of productions float around from one production company to another and from one show to another, Peterson said.
In addition, the union was engaged in “internal organizing,” Peterson said. “We want to make sure that people cycling through these shops remain active in the campaign even if we don’t happen to have an NLRB election at that particular shop at that particular time.”
Peterson added that the union had targeted other producers of nonfiction television, but declined to name them specifically. The union already has three contracts with nonfiction production companies, he said, most recently with Leftfield Entertainment, which produces “Pawn Stars” and “The Real Housewives of New Jersey.”
Under the NLRA, to appeal the decision of the board and the results of the contested election, NBC would need to refuse to bargain with the WGAE, which could then file unfair labor practice charges that eventually could end up being heard in a U.S. appellate court.
“We don’t anticipate” that happening, Peterson said. “But on the other hand, we didn’t anticipate we’d be waiting till 2016 to count ballots” from the representation election.
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