Friday, January 18, 2008

Viacom Fills Freelancers' Stockings with Coal

Paging the Ghost of Christmas Future: Sumner Redstone is pulling a Scrooge.
The Viacom chairman waited until three weeks before Christmas to drop a bomb of miserliness on the company's legions of freelancers -- a designation that includes plenty of employees who work full-time hours for inferior benefits.

No longer will contract workers enjoy the almost sinful luxury of five paid vacation days a year. Tuition reimbursement and commuter deductions have also been cut, according to sources, and Gawker says dental coverage is out the window, too.

Disney and General Electric currently provide an Freelance Employee Flex Plan to their permalance workers at ABC and NBC, which provides both very basic insurance coverage and retirement benefits, but none of the other traditional benefits that Viacom freelancers have enjoyed up to now.

A Viacom spokesman said the changes would only affect freelancers hired starting Jan. 1. Actually, he said, "Freelance employees hired after December 31, 2007 will be eligible for a newly designed benefits program that will be one of the most competitive freelance compensation and benefits packages in the industry."

Translation: What kind of freelancer expects dental?

Certainly not Tribune's freelancers, who have NEVER had health insurance benefits, sick days, nor vacation days. Tribune "permalance" employees at WPIX were eligible for the "no company match" 401K and, now defunct, Employee Stock Purchase Plan after 1000 hours of freelance employment. What they will get under the upcoming new ownership is anybody's guess, but you can bet that the benefits situation for freelancers is not going to get better any time soon.

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