The labor dispute between the Writers Guild of America, West and Comcast Corp. escalated Wednesday when the guild announced that a majority of writers who work on the cable networks E!, Style and G4 voted to be represented by the union.
In an election monitored and certified by Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti, the union said writers on shows including "The Soup" "The Dish" and "E! News" and "Chelsea Lately" voted 46-to-1 in favor of having the union represent them in contract negotiations. The guild is seeking union benefits on behalf of about 65 writers on 10 different shows on Comcast-owned cable TV networks.
The guild recently announced that 80% of the writers on the Comcast shows had signed authorization cards seeking to be represented by the guild. But Comcast rebuffed the demand, saying writers should have the opportunity to vote in a secret-ballot election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board.
The guild viewed that demand as a delaying tactic intended to thwart its organizing efforts, and instead asked Garcetti, a supporter of the guild, to oversee a secret-ballot election.
"The results of this election send a clear message -- these writers are serious about organizing and want Comcast to sit down with the WGAW to negotiate a contract on their behalf,'' Garcetti said at a City Hall news conference, where he was surrounding by various guild officials.
"Comcast made a public statement saying it believes in the sanctity of a secret-ballot election, and that's exactly what we've participated in,'' said the "The Soup" writer Greg Fideler. "Comcast must now do its part and begin talks with the Writers Guild."
But Comcast Entertainment Group dismissed the validity of the vote, calling it a non-binding poll that has no legal standing.
"A binding election of eligible employees, overseen by the NLRB, is what is called for and is what is fair for our employees,'' the company said in a statement. "If the WGA is truly certain of the desires of our employees, as they assert they are, then they should call for an NLRB-sanctioned election so that voting can take place and the matter can be settled in the manner prescribed by the NLRB."
The dispute comes at a delicate time for Comcast, which is hoping to complete its $30-billion merger with NBC Universal early next year. The Writers Guild has opposed the merger of the media companies, saying it would stifle competition and hurt consumers by restricting open access to the Internet.
Union officials also have raised concerns that Comcast, which is not a signatory to Writers Guild contracts, would be hostile to organized labor in Hollywood.
"Their past history has been staunchly anti-union,'' said WGA, West President John Wells, who has testified against the merger in congressional hearings. "They're taking over a major employer in a highly union town. ... This does not bode well."
-- Richard Verrier
Photo credit: Chelsea Handler, left, hosts the E! late-night talk show "Chelsea Lately."