Writers seek labor contract on Comcast shows
Just when the dust has cleared on one Hollywood labor dispute, another is kicking up -- this time involving cable giant Comcast Corp.
The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees recently settled its brief strike against the producers of "The Biggest Loser" over securing union benefits for workers on the hit NBC reality series.
Now the Writers Guild of America, West is locked in a similar standoff with Comcast over an effort to organize more than two dozen writers who work on 10 different shows airing on Comcast-owned cable TV networks. Those include "Chelsea Lately" on E!, "The Dish" on Style, and "Attack of the Show," a daily program about tech culture on G4.
The dispute comes at an awkward time for Comcast, which is hoping to complete its $30-billion merger with NBC Universal early next year.
The guild says more than 80% of the writers who work on the Comcast cable shows have signed authorization cards requesting to be represented by the union, but that the cable company has refused to sit down at the bargaining table. The WGA has been seeking to organize writers who work in the fast-growing areas of new media, basic cable and reality TV, many of which are not covered under a union contract.
The WGA hasn't called for a labor action against the Comcast shows, but things appear to be getting testy on both sides. On Wednesday, the guild released a letter signed by more than 100 writers from various NBC Universal shows, including "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," "House" and "30 Rock," declaring support for their colleagues at Comcast.
"We believe that Comcast Entertainment Group's writers should have what we have, a Writers Guild of America contract that provides portable pension and health benefits, fair payments for reuse and resale of their material, reasonable minimums and other appropriate employment terms," the letter said.
Comcast has called the union's demand "unfair to employees" and wants the National Labor Relations Board to oversee any vote on whether they should be represented by the Writers Guild.
"We informed the union that we believe in the sanctity of the secret ballot election and feel that it is important for every employee to have the opportunity to vote," according to a statement from Comcast. "The election process will allow employees to consider all the facts related to union representation before making an informed decision."
Both the FCC and the Justice Department are reviewing the Comcast/NBC Universal deal to determine what conditions should be put on the two companies as part of the approval process.
Though Comcast is not a signatory to the Writers Guild contracts, Chief Executive Brian Roberts testified before the House Judiciary Committee that "one of our commitments up front is we hope to continue the good relations with the guilds and the unions that NBC Universal has."
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.
-- Richard Verrier