Monday, January 31, 2011

Job Available Through United Scenic Artists 829 IATSE

Assistant Art Director Wanted For Showtime Episodic Series Entering  Second Season 

We are looking for a great Asst. Art Director willing to work in Stamford CT. Four weeks prep and then full time for the first half of the season. (Further employment dependent on script needs)


Candidates must not only have a great attitude and work ethic, but MUST be good hand draftsman who can also do computer drafting. Not the reverse. Please have hand drafting examples available.

In exchange I will be a great boss and mentor. Looking for a partner not just a drafting machine.

Please send resumes to: Jordanjacobs@mac.com

Ideal candidates will have the following computer skills: Adobe ai, Adobe photoshop, sketch up, auto-cad or mac equivalent.

Thank you,

Jordan Jacobs
Jordanjacobs@mac.com 
www.usa829.org



Founded in 1897, UNITED SCENIC ARTISTS, LOCAL USA 829, IATSE is a labor union and professional association of designers, artists and craftspeople, organized to protect craft standards, working conditions and wages for the entertainment and decorative arts industries. The members of Local USA 829 are artists and designers working in scenic shops, film, theatre, opera, ballet, television, industrial shows, commercials and exhibitions.

Friday, January 28, 2011

AFTRA and SAG Joint Wages & Working Conditions Meeting for Members

AFTRA and SAG Announce a Wages & Working Conditions Meeting for the AFTRA National Code of Fair Practice for Non-Broadcast Industrial/Educational Recorded Material and the SAG Industrial and Educational Contract


Meetings to be held in New York City on:

Monday, Feb. 7 from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m at SAG
and
Monday, Feb. 14, from 11:30 a.m. to 2 :30 p.m. at AFTRA.

The AFTRA National Code of Fair Practice for Non-Broadcast Industrial/Educational Recorded Material and the Screen Actors Guild Codified Industrial and Educational Contract expire on April 30, 2011.


All AFTRA and SAG members who work under these Contracts are invited to attend the W&W Meeting. Your participation is vital to a contract negotiation responsive to the working members. Attend and share your thoughts on these contracts with your fellow actors.


The meeting is only open to paid-up AFTRA and SAG members in good standing. Unfortunately, no guests allowed. Parents/guardians of younger performers under 18 years old are welcome.

AFTRA AND SAG MEMBERS, PLEASE BRING YOUR MEMBERSHIP CARD (paid thru April 30, 2011) FOR ADMITTANCE.

SAG Meeting


When: Monday, Feb. 7 from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Where: Screen Actors Guild,  Leon Janney Board Room
             360 Madison Avenue, 14th Floor, 45th St. between Fifth and Madison

AFTRA Meeting

When: Monday, Feb. 14, from 11:30 a.m. to 2 :30 p.m.
Where: AFTRA, Eddie Cantor Board Room
             260 Madison Ave. 7th floor, Between 38th and 39th Streets


Note: Dates and times are subject to change. Notice will be given of any changes.


Thank you for your participation!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Organizing 2.0 at CUNY Murphy Institute, Sunday, Feb. 13, 2011

Subject: Organizing 2.0 at CUNY Murphy Institute, Sunday, Feb. 13, 2011

Organizing 2.0

Monday, January 24, 2011

How Comcast Sealed The NBCU Deal

By Bob Fernandez,
Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer

Comcast Corp.'s top strategists knew months ago that success in acquiring NBC Universal, despite the objections of a bevy of powerful opponents, rested with the little-known but lyrically named Mignon Clyburn.

The 48-year-old Clyburn, a Democrat, daughter of a South Carolina congressman and the former owner-publisher of a weekly magazine, joined the Federal Communications Commission in 2009 and was one of the five commission members who would decide if Comcast could assume NBCU in a blockbuster, $30 billion deal.

The Comcast lobbyists, led by executive vice president David Cohen, studied the FCC members the way NFL coaches prep for the college draft. Clyburn, they decided, held the key vote, so they courted her with plans and promises meant to convince her that the new Comcast conglomerate would be a gentle giant.

And it worked.

Early last week, Clyburn cast the final 'yes' for the deal that will transform the nation's largest cable distributor, Comcast, into a $50 billion media giant with movie studios, an over-the-air TV network, and cable channels.

With her vote, Comcast crossed the finish line on more than a year of heated lobbying for a deal that many thought was unwise and would create a cable-distribution and programming company that could dominate the emerging multimedia universe and hurt competitors and consumers alike.

Comcast was not preordained to prevail in its pursuit of NBCU. But it toughed out a victory over opposition that seemed, in the end, fragmented and overwhelmed - and willing to concede with grudging admiration what the company had accomplished on the Washington battleground.

"They did a great job," said Charles Herring, president of Wealth TV cable channel in San Diego. "I think it's good for Comcast. I would be thrilled if I was a Comcast shareholder. My concern is that I think it will shut out independent programmers."

Andrew Jay Schwartzman, president of the nonprofit Media Access Project, which opposed the merger, said it was a "textbook case of lobbying on Capitol Hill and at the federal regulatory agencies."

"Clearly Brian Roberts was willing to spend whatever it took to get this done," Schwartzman said, noting that he believed that Comcast "spent extravagantly and wisely."

The regulatory approvals came with conditions that are expected to limit Comcast's market power in the pay-TV industry and online video. Even here, Comcast did fine. Wall Street feared that the agencies would place so many restrictions on Comcast that it would not make sense to even do the deal for NBCU.

But the analysts' consensus in the days immediately following the approval was that the provisions wouldn't change the way Comcast does business.

"A year later . . . less than feared," wrote Bank of America Corp. analyst Jessica Reif Cohen.

"Concessions are complex but better than expected, in our view," said Marci Ryvicker of Wells Fargo Securities L.L.C.

Comcast's stock price rose 3.6 percent in the days after the government approvals, closing Friday at $23.53.

Bloggers have seized on a Comcast disclosure in 2010 that it had spent about $100 million on NBCU-related expenses, attributing most of that to lobbying. But Comcast says the $100 million includes many other costs, such as legal and financing fees related to the transaction.

There is no question that Comcast has deep pockets and an almost-unmatched influence with elected officials, many of whom it has helped financially with campaign contributions.

But just as important, say those who followed the merger review, was how Comcast pushed the process forward and did its homework. It reached deals with those it needed and neutralized the opposition.

Said one FCC staffer: "They left no stone unturned. They dotted a million i's and crossed a million t's even before they came here."

Clyburn, the sole African American on the FCC, is a critical case in point.

Comcast really needed her vote, and knew it. That's because the two pro-business Republican commissioners, Robert M. McDowell and Meredith Attwell Baker, would likely vote for the merger. And so would Julius Genachowski, the Democratic chairman of the FCC.

But a 3-2 vote, with Clyburn and the fifth FCC commissioner, Democrat Michael J. Copps, voting "no," would not display bipartisan support and would be politically awkward for Genachowski.

Comcast bosses, say industry sources, made this parsing early, and began to court Clyburn.

One issue important to her was diversity.

Months before a final vote, Comcast reached agreements with Asian, Hispanic, and African American civil rights groups, agreeing to create high-level diversity councils at the company, add a Hispanic director on the Comcast board, and expand minority hiring.

Comcast did not stop there. It agreed it would add cable channels either owned by minorities or that targeted minority audiences, to its cable system, with 23 million subscribers.

In the final days of the review, Comcast conceded to a last-minute request by Clyburn to add protections for small cable operators that said Comcast would force them to pay high programming costs for NBCU content.

The wooing paid off. The final FCC vote was 4-1, with only Copps - steadfastly opposed all along - saying no.

Clyburn said in a statement Friday that she initially viewed the Comcast-NBCU transaction "with some skepticism."

"But after countless hours of review, I concluded that the companies went a long way toward addressing each and every one of my concerns," Clyburn said. She said she was convinced "that Comcast was sincere about ensuring that this merger would be in the public interest."

Cohen was understandably pleased with the government's merger review. He, along with a team that included executives Kathryn Zachem, Joseph Waz, and Melissa Maxfield, were the lead players in the review.

Comcast had a plan - though no written playbook - even before the actual announcement of Comcast's intentions to acquire a controlling stake in NBCU in December 2009, Cohen said.

"I don't think it was anything great we did here," Cohen said. "We had a compelling transaction, and we were consistent in articulating our vision." The company, he said, did not take "the bait that was often thrown up to get us into a tit-for-tat."

The company was sensitive to the concerns of FCC commissioners. Cohen noted that Comcast tried to persuade Copps to approve the merger with promises to preserve the editorial independence of NBC News and expand children's TV programming.

"I was going for five votes," Cohen said.

As for the civil rights agreements, they "were designed not just to get Mignon Clyburn's vote," Cohen said. "They were designed to support momentum around the transaction so all the commissioners could vote for the deal," he said.

Matthew Polka, president of the American Cable Association, a trade association of small cable operators, said he was thankful for Clyburn's help with concessions in the final days of the merger review.

"Comcast put a lot of resources behind this - in lobbying and everything else," Polka said. "And that was something that the rest of us didn't have."

Contact staff writer Bob Fernandez at 215-854-5897 or bob.fernandez@phillynews.com .

AFTRA Board Votes to Continue on With SAG Merger Talks

By Daniel Frankel

Lets try this again. That was the message Saturday from the national board of the American Federation of TV and Radio Artists, which "overwhelmingly" voted for the labor organization to continue merger talks with the Screen Actors Guild.


Of course, AFTRA's merger overtures have been rejected twice before by SAG in past decades. But with SAG under merger-friendly "moderate" leadership that's making merger a priority, it really happen this time.

Here's the full AFTRA press release:

AFTRA National Board Approves Resolution to Facilitate Creation of One New Successor Union

LOS ANGELES and NEW YORK (Jan. 22, 2011) – The National Board of Directors of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA, AFL-CIO) met today by videoconference plenary in Los Angeles and New York and overwhelmingly passed a resolution formally authorizing AFTRA leadership to continue working with Screen Actors Guild in the Presidents’ Forum for One Union and its “Listening Tour” between now and the Board’s next regular meeting on May 14. Today’s vote marks the first time the AFTRA National Board has officially acted on the Presidents’ Forum.

The resolution also instructs the AFTRA members of the Presidents’ Forum to continue the “Listening Tour” in the major AFTRA Locals – which include Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Chicago and Washington/Baltimore – and in as many of the other Locals as possible between now and the next Board meeting. It also directs the Presidents’ Forum members and AFTRA’s National Strategy Cabinet – a committee of members representing professional performers, broadcasters and recording artists and tasked with making strategic recommendations to the President – to present their findings to the Board at its meeting on May 14 and make recommendations about next steps in the process, including whether or not to create a committee to engage in formal discussions with SAG to bring the unions’ memberships together into a new, successor union for the 21st century.

The full text of the resolution reads:

Resolution to Facilitate Creation of One New Successor Union

Whereas, the overwhelming majority of AFTRA’s past and present elected leadership and AFTRA’s general membership have long supported the concept of combining AFTRA and the Screen Actors Guild into a new successor union; and


Whereas, in both 1998 and in 2003, AFTRA’s Local and National elected leadership and AFTRA’s general membership successfully delivered a resounding "yes" vote in separate referenda on the question of combining AFTRA and SAG into a new successor union; and


Whereas, AFTRA’s current elected leadership is encouraged by the renewed interest expressed by SAG’s current leadership in bringing AFTRA and SAG together into a new successor union; and

Whereas, past attempts to bring AFTRA and SAG together, including those in 1998 and 2003, were predicated on 20th century viewpoints and the 20th century world of work of the unions’ memberships; and


Whereas, the work done during those past attempts, while laudable and appropriate for their times, is no longer relevant to 21st century technology, 21st century employment patterns and the media and entertainment industries of the 21st century; and

Whereas, the Presidents’ Forum for One Union, established informally in 2010, has begun a process of meeting with representative and diverse focus groups of members to hear directly about the issues, concerns, challenges, opportunities, points of view and working realities of 21st century members in order to understand and identify the vision, strategy and goals that a 21st century union should pursue; and


Whereas, this “Listening Tour” process is a visionary improvement over past processes, and acknowledges that defining the strategies and goals relevant to members in the 21st century is a mandatory first step before any concrete plans to build a structure for a new successor union are developed;

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT:

The National Board of AFTRA applauds and endorses the work of the Presidents’ Forum to engage in this “Listening Tour” process; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the National Board of AFTRA authorizes and directs the AFTRA appointees of the Presidents Forum to continue this “Listening Tour” process with their counterparts from SAG, between now and the next scheduled meeting of the AFTRA National Board; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the National Board of AFTRA further directs that the continuation of this process must include a “Listening Tour” session in every Major Local of AFTRA, and as many of AFTRA’s Field Locals as scheduling practicalities permit, prior to the next meeting of the AFTRA National Board; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the AFTRA appointees to the Presidents’ Forum are directed to report their findings and recommendations to the AFTRA Strategy Cabinet; with the further direction that the AFTRA Strategy Cabinet shall make a recommendation to the AFTRA National Board based on input from the AFTRA appointees to the Presidents’ Forum, at the Board's next regular meeting; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that at the next regular meeting of the AFTRA National Board, the findings and recommendations from the Presidents’ Forum and the AFTRA Strategy Cabinet shall include their conclusions and recommendations on whether, and in what form, the AFTRA National Board should establish a committee to engage in formal discussions with a corresponding authorized committee of SAG, if any, to bring AFTRA and SAG together as a new, successor union for the 21st century

AFTRA National President Roberta Reardon praised the Board’s action saying: “I applaud the leadership of the AFTRA National Board and the hard work of AFTRA members which, together, have brought this union to where we are today. Our world of work is very different than it was the last time tried we tried to bring our unions together, so any new, successor union we hope to create must also be different, and to do that successfully, we must be guided by a clear vision for the future.

As we continue and advance this ambitious project in partnership with the Screen Actors Guild, I urge all AFTRA members – performers, recording artists and broadcasters – to imagine not just how good, but how much better we can be together.”


In related action, the National Board approved an unusual expenditure of a stipend for the National President for a specific and limited period of time to offset the loss of financial income from work opportunities she will miss in order to conduct the Presidents’ Forum “Listening Tour” on an accelerated schedule as directed by the National Board.

The National Board today received a presentation on the fight to curb the digital theft of copyrighted material online. The Board voted overwhelmingly to approve the union’s work in the effort to address this threat to AFTRA members’ livelihoods.

AFTRA General Counsel and National Director of Legislative Affairs Tom Carpenter said: “Illegal file sharing costs 140,000 jobs and $5.5 billion annually which is why fighting copyright theft is an important part of AFTRA’s mission to protect every member’s ability to earn a living as a creative professional. The entertainment community must find a successful solution to the threat posed by this devastating criminal activity. “

The National Board received an update on preparations for negotiation of AFTRA’s Interactive Media Agreement, an AFTRA-only contract which expires on March 31. In addition, the Board received an update on preparations for negotiations for the AFTRA Non-Broadcast/Industrial/Educational Recorded Material Code, which expires on April 30 and which will be renegotiated jointly with Screen Actors Guild. No bargaining dates have yet been set for either agreement.

In her report to the National Board, AFTRA National Executive Director Kim Roberts Hedgpeth advised that ratification is currently underway on an 18-month extension to the AFTRA Sound Recordings Code. Voting will take place electronically online and by phone, with votes due back on Feb. 8. If ratified, the extension will expire on Dec. 31, 2011.

Hedgpeth also reported to the Board that during the first six months of the 2010-2011 fiscal year, the union has collected more than $7 million on behalf of AFTRA members through claims, grievances, arbitrations, legal action and legal settlements.

Shelby Scott, Union Chair of the Trustees of the AFTRA Health & Retirement Funds and past AFTRA National President, reported to the Board that a preliminary review of the AFTRA H&R Funds financials indicate that the Retirement Fund gained 11% in the last fiscal year (Dec. 1, 2009 through Nov. 30, 2010) and that the Retirement Fund continues to operate in the “green zone.” Further, the AFTRA Health Fund has more than a year’s assets in reserve. The Trustees will gather for their regularly scheduled face-to-face meeting this coming week in New York.

In other action, the Eastern Section of the National Board elected Philadelphia member Bill Shusta to replace Atlanta member Dick Klinger on the Eastern section of the Administrative Committee.

Klinger’s resignation from longtime service on the AFTRA National Board was announced today, and his replacement to the National Board will be elected by the Atlanta Local Board later this week. Los Angeles member Alan Ruck also resigned from the National Board and the Los Angeles Local Board has elected actor Matt Kimbrough to replace him.


The National Board approved the appointment of members to a range of committees including the Blue Ribbon Committee on Agents, and the Information Technology, Health and Retirement Issues and Convention Procedures Committees. AFTRA’s next National Convention, the union’s highest governing body convened biennially, will be held on July 21 – 23 in Seattle, Wash. The National Board also approved replacements for AFTRA’s representatives on the boards of directors of Career Transition For Dancers and Theater Authority East to replace longtime staff member and former National Director of Administration Terry Walker. Walker retired on Jan. 8 after more than 30 years of service to members.

Board members received a report from outside counsel regarding anonymous allegations made against New York National Board member David Browde that he had violated the AFL-CIO facilitated No Raiding/Non-Disparagement Agreement between AFTRA and Screen Actors Guild. The investigation by outside counsel revealed that no violations of either the Agreement or the union’s internal rules on confidentiality had been violated. The report was made during an executive session of the National Board and all details of the findings remain confidential.

Committee reports were also presented to the National Board from the tri-union IAMPWD Campaign, and the Equal Employment Opportunities, Finance, Women’s, Broadcast Steering and National Audiobooks Steering Committees.

The Board convened its meeting in memory of legendary AFTRA broadcaster John FitzGerald, a longtime National and Cleveland Local Board member who served as a Trustee of the AFTRA Health & Retirement Funds until his death this past Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 2010.

The National Board of Directors will next meet by videoconference plenary in Los Angeles and New York on May 14, 2011.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Will Tribune Co. Sell its Newspapers Post-Bankruptcy?

By Sharon Waxman & Dominic Patten
The Wrap

What will be the fate of the Tribune Company’s flagship newspapers when the giant media company emerges from bankruptcy later this year?


That’s not because the newspapers are failing financially. Indeed, reports from knowledgeable executives inside the Times and Tribune suggest that the bloodletting has been staunched, the newspapers are reasonably profitable and that some semblence of stability can be presumed.


But the creditors who are expected to emerge as the new owners of the company may not care. Leading creditors like JPMorgan Chase, the private investment firm Angelo, Gordon & Co and Oaktree Capital Management, presumed to be the likely new owners, will place a premium on maximizing value for those assets now as print continues to decline over time.

And it may be an opportune time to sell a prestigious title like the L.A. Times. Before Tribune was bought by Sam Zell in 2007 and became mired in bankruptcy, the paper had garnered the interest of local billionaires Eli Broad, Ron Burkle and David Geffen. (At the time, the property could not be sold separately from Tribune Company because of the tax implications.)

"Tribune's long standing policy is to decline comment on speculation or rumor regarding the company or its assets," spokesman Gary Weitman told TheWrap. "We will decline comment on this story."
An individual with knowledge of the company’s financials said that both the L.A. Times and Chicago Tribune were now operating at a profit, and that some analysts believe the Los Angeles-based daily could go for as much as $1 billion. The more profitable but less prestigious Tribune would be worth substantially less but still bring in a significant sale price.

The company is now private, thus no verifiable revenue figures are available. Currently, the company is run by a four person Executive Council, including Los Angeles Times publisher Eddy Hartenstein, who is also co-President of Tribune.

Tribune owns 10 daily newspapers, with the L.A. Times as its most prominent and largest daily, and the flagship Chicago Tribune close behind. Other papers include the Orlando Sentinel and the Hartford Courant.

In October 2009, Tribune sold the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field to Tom Ricketts.

The company’s remaining assets are its 23 television, and cable and radio stations, which would remain the hub of the company if a sale were completed. The company runs 13 CW stations and seven Fox stations and owns one third of the Food Network, a combined reach of 80 percent of American TV households.
Amidst that, there has been no shortage of Tribune sideshows in recent months.


There was the resignation in the fall of CEO Randy Michaels and other company executives for frat boy behavior.

A number of creditors, including the large Unsecured Creditors’ Committee, have taken legal action or have sought the right via a trustee to take legal action against Zell, who has said he will leave the company post-bankruptcy, and other company officers involved in the buyout.

Michael Eisner has been cited as potentially taking over the company. The former Disney CEO is a close friend of John Angelo, head of investment firm Angelo, Gordon & Co. The NYC-based firm is a significant player in crafting a reorganization plan to get the company out of bankruptcy court in Delaware.

Three reorganization plans were mailed out to company creditors on Dec. 22 with creditors having until Jan. 28 to actually cast their votes.

The judge in Tribune’s Chapter 11 case has scheduled March 7, 2011, as the beginning of five days of argument on the merits of the submitted plans and accompanying disclosure statements.

At the end of that hearing, if all goes ahead, Judge Kevin Carey will confirm a plan to exit the company from Chapter 11. That final plan, which won’t necessarily be the one with the most creditor votes, could be one of the submitted reorganizations or an amalgamation of two or more.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Comcastrophe - FCC Approves Comcast Merger With NBC


The FCC just blessed the merger of Comcast, the nation's largest cable and home Internet provider, with NBC Universal.

The decision was handed down moments ago,and you should be mad as hell.


The Justice Department approved the merger, too, leading to the unprecedented consolidation of media and Internet power in the hands of one company.



There's no way to sugarcoat it. Wherever you live, the Comcast-NBC merger is a disaster.


Letting one company control the pipes and the content that flows over those pipes is a formula for abuse. Comcast-NBC could soon hike up rates, take away your favorite channels or even stop you from watching your favorite shows online. Comcast has already targeted Netflix and other companies that compete with its video and Internet offerings.


The merger lays waste to then-candidate Barack Obama's 2008 promise, when he said, "I strongly favor diversity of ownership of outlets and protection against the excessive concentration of power in the hands of any one corporation, interest or small group. I strongly believe that all citizens should be able to receive information from the broadest range of sources."


We at Free Press believe that, too. But unlike the president and his FCC chairman, we're not caving to corporate pressure. Free Press is working with our allies and activists to fight for more open, democratic and diverse media.

Here's how you can help:

1. First, let Washington know that there are consequences to blessing this bad deal. You can tell everyone that this merger is a disaster by Tweeting about it, spreading the word via Facebook, and sharing this e-mail with others.

2. Next, join our national network of local Comcast watchdogs. Sign this pledge to protect your community against future Comcast abuses, and we'll connect you to a growing network of activists in your area and beyond.

3. Finally, support the Free Press Action Fund so we can mobilize a broad coalition to stem the tide of new media mergers sure to follow in the wake of Comcast-NBC.

Today's deal, combined with the FCC's recent loophole-ridden, fake "Net Neutrality" rule, sets the stage for Comcast to turn the Internet into something that looks like cable TV. This administration has a long list of weak compromises to corporate lobbyists during its first two years. But today's merger is particularly alarming.

You might be saying, "I'm not a Comcast customer, so I'm not worried." But Comcast will jack up the prices that other cable and online distributors pay for NBC content, and you'll pay higher prices -- we promise.

You might be saying, "I can just get a new Internet provider if I don't like it." But there's almost no broadband competition. And as TV, radio, phone and other services increasingly become Internet-based, cable will be the only connection that's fast enough to deliver high-quality media and services to most Americans.

You might be saying, "Why should I care about a business deal between two giant companies?" But this merger is certain to be the first domino to fall in a series of mega-media mergers. The FCC's blessing of Comcast-NBC will embolden companies like AT&T or Verizon to try to gobble up content providers like Disney and CBS, creating a new era of media consolidation where even fewer companies control the content you watch and all the ways you watch it.

The Comcast-NBC merger is truly catastrophic for the public, and for the future of media, technology and democracy.

We can't let a few corporate giants control the flow of information in America. It's time to get mad, but it's also time to get involved.

Thank you,

Josh Silver
President and CEO
Free Press
1. "FCC Approves Comcast and NBC Joint Venture," Washington Post, 1/18/11: http://act2.freepress.net/go/1806?akid=2226.9722827.xNJ9Pe&t=6  

Labor Under Obama: CUNY, Friday, January 21, 2011, 8:30am-10:30am

 "Labor Under Obama": CUNY, Friday, January 21, 2011, 8:30am-10:30am
Dear Friend of the CUNY Murphy Institute:
We thought it fitting – and necessary – to begin the year with a special breakfast forum that will take a close look at labor policy in the first two years of the Obama presidency, and what lies ahead.
We are therefore very pleased to invite you to the first forum of 2011, entitled “Labor Under Obama” to be held on Friday , January 21, 2011, from 8:30 to 10:30 AM at the Murphy Institute.

Speaking at this forum are Bill Samuel, Director of Government Affairs, AFL-CIO; and Anne Marie Lofaso , Associate Professor of Law, West Virginia University College of Law.   What has been the Obama Administration's performance with regard to labor unions and working people. More...  


If you wish to unsubscribe from the JSM-INSTITUTE-L List, please send an E-mail to: "listserv@listserv.cuny.edu". Within the body of the text, only write the following: "SIGNOFF JSM-INSTITUTE-L".

Monday, January 17, 2011

An Ugly PIX-ture

By JOSH KOSMAN, The New York Post
(with comments from Broadcast Union News added in italics)

Ax and Work Climate Sap Morale at WPIX

Aggressive cost-cutting moves at WPIX-TV -- together with continued allegations of a harsh and unfriendly work environment -- are taking their toll on morale at the Tribune-owned station, The Post has learned.

The latest move under News Director Bill Carey's watch that unsettled staff came in the last several days, when the station shuttered the sports department, eliminated the sports director position and reassigned Lolita Lopez, the sports director, sources tell The Post.

With the move, WPIX becomes the first Big Apple TV station not to have a sports department, sources said.

It is unclear if the station plans to fold sports into the news coverage and have news anchors report the scores or if it plans to outsource sports coverage.

In additional cuts, the station's human resources, research, and community affairs departments have been eliminated.

(PIX doesn't consider humans resources, they are expenses to be reduced as much as possible; buys their world and national news from CNN, AP, and Reuters, and cut their investigative news unit, so no research department is needed; and clearly isn't any more interested in the local community than they are in their non-executive employees, so why should any of these cuts be a suprise? -BD)

Four present WPIX employees told The Post that besides the cost-cutting, they felt they were working in a deteriorating work environment. One of them said, "There's no line that can't be crossed."

At the same time, Channel 11 -- broadcast home of the New York Mets -- wants to change union rules to do away with a dedicated camera person during on-location news shoots and force WPIX reporters to do it alone, a union source added.

(PIX also wants to eliminate seniority, paid meals, and a host of hard won work rules designed to keep their workers safe, and generally eliminate union jurisdiction altogether. This is a company who has not given their freelance broadcast engineers a raise in 12 years, and provides no benefits to their freelance employees. -BD)

If successful, WPIX would be the first major New York station, besides non-union NY1, to do so, sources said.

( PIX has already eliminated most of their ENG crews by merging much of their news gathering operation with those at CBS, NBC, and FOX5 in a shared services agreement known as a Local News Service (LNS) where each station provides crews and equipment in a pool administered by a single shared assignment editor. In case you wonder why all the NYC TV stations show the identical news stories.-BD)

Channel 11 is no stranger to such allegations of turmoil. Last June, Karen Scott, the former news director at WPIX, reportedly hit the station with a $4.5 million lawsuit claiming such news legends as Kaity Tong and Sal Marchiano suffered from age discrimination.

(Four IBEW represented broadcast engineers and two IATSE represented stagehands, all over age 40, were laid off in violation of their collective bargaining agreements as well. - BD)

Later in the summer, more employees were let go or demoted after participating in a report on WPIX's alleged difficult work environment.

Then-WPIX General Manager Betty Ellen Berlamino, who was investigating such charges, delivered her report to the head office of the bankrupt Tribune company in Chicago, according to a source. As part of her report, she spoke extensively to Jim Watkins, then the weeknight news anchor, who confirmed that fellow reporters had confided in him about their experiences.

"He [Watkins] was questioned and was honest [about the work climate]," said a source with direct knowledge of the situation.

Berlamino was soon let go, and Watkins demoted, sources said.

WPIX's former HR director, Jean Maye, told one individual who participated in the report that the person's employment at the company would not be threatened.

(She lied, what a suprise. On a happy note, Velma Jean Maye got laid off too. The rats at Tribune have no loyalty to each other either. -BD)

Also, this past fall, Emmy Award-winning reporter Peter Thorne tried to resign but wasn't freed from his contract after he saw a particular story air on the WPIX 10 p.m. newscast -- the same story Thorne pitched to Carey that morning, and that Carey rejected, sources said.

Carey, a former general manager at WFTS/Channel 28 in Tampa Bay, was hired in November 2009 with a mandate for change -- and to press for higher ratings. He demoted Tong and Watkins.

On the ratings front, he did appear to score a hit with the 10 o'clock news. Last October, Carey named Jodi Applegate as sole anchor and, over the past seven months, WPIX's ratings in that slot have risen to 1.1 from about 0.8.

(At a recent PIX "All Hands Meeting" the company announced double digit profits at Tribune and WPIX and, despite being in bankruptcy, the executives have awarded themelves over $ 40 million dollars in bonuses, while freezing salaries and cutting benefits for the non-executive employees who've been told to be thankful they still have jobs at all. - BD)
WPIX spokeswoman Jessica Bellucci declined to comment.

jkosman@nypost.com

SELECTED COMMENTS:

Jake 3 wrote: " How sad that ratings went up since they dummied down the news so much and use now stupid visual cues for everything, no context, no real info, running old stories all weekend. Then they add that horrible, screaching Lionel and some other right winger. Cue laughably fake banter. Just Awful."

Archie wrote: "Since the demotion of Kaity Tong I stopped watching PIX after a while. The people who are there seem unhappy as if they may be next . The smiles and jokes seemed so forced and unnatural.There are so many other choices for news I felt I didn’t need to go through whatever PIX is going through right now with them. I think they may have forgotten that viewers have a remote control that does change the stations."

Beebbop wrote: "Carey, a former general manager at WFTS/Channel 28 in Tampa Bay, was hired in November 2009 with a mandate for change -- and to press for higher ratings. That explains everything...Florida is a right to work state which actually means the right to fire,mistreat,abuse and demote workers with NO reprecussions or legal recourse...workers are treated exceptionally poorly down here (yes Im down in tampa) Its obvious Carey brought the mentalitly of treating workers like garbage from the right to work state......disgraceful! he should be fired!"

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Unions Serve the Tea: the Rage Against the Employed and the Unionized

by: Joseph Natoli


"The Taft-Hartley Act, passed in 1948 and the single most destructive piece of legislation to the union movement, was a product of anti-communist hysteria. When it was passed, about half of all American workers belonged to labor unions. That figure has now dropped to twelve percent." Chris Hedges, Death of the Liberal Class, 2010

"We can no longer live in a society where the public employees are the haves and taxpayers who foot the bills are the have-nots." Scott Walker, newly elected governor of Wisconsin, quoted in the NewYork Times, January 4, 2011

Clever that. I mean making adversaries of unionized “public employees” and “taxpayers,” making union workers the “Haves” and taxpayers the “Have-Nots.” I wonder on what stage such a performance is creditable?

It was a vast change in the cultural surround which engineered The Taft-Hartley (1948)revision, or more precisely, undermining, of the Wagner Act, aka, the National Labor Relations Act. Think of “cultural surround” firstly in a traditional way: as a present economic state of affairs affected by historical economic conditions that have led to a certain social ordering as well as a politics that functions within the boundaries of possibility these socio-economic conditions have created. Now introduce the notion that these “existing conditions” have only a mediated or phenomenal reality, that is, how they are valued and what they mean to us depends upon a battle of representation, a war of image and spectacle, of chat and spin.

So the phrase “cultural surround” includes all of this, Marx’s “material and historical conditions” subject to – or, sieved through -- the battle of the blogs, the “No-Spin” zones of Fox TV, the “updates” of Facebook friends, the “viral” videos of Youtube, the “truths” of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, the political guidance of Sarah Palin. Reality for humans, in short, is always performed.

In 1935 the Wagner Act was passed as part of FDR’s New Deal, a very important part because salaried workers who had suffered in the Wall Street collapse of 1929, needed some support from government in responding to unfair labor practices of employers. This “labor bill of rights” was part of FDR’s thrust toward an “economic bill of rights,” rights involving a living wage, housing, medical care, education and social security. The cultural clime then in regard to unions, government, and employers differed immeasurably from the cultural clime of the present even though both eras were blighted by similar acts of monumental financial chicanery, over-speculation and Wall Street carte blanche.

FDR connected economic insecurity of the many to the reckless profiteering and greed of the few. What he learned from the Great Depression was that the political enfranchisement guaranteed by the existing Bill of Rights could be rendered meaningless if the working class was reduced to a servitude that had plagued every society since the beginning of time. Who had looted the country and brought it to its knees remained clear throughout FDR’s days in office. And the overwhelming numbers of Americans who were deep in unemployment, homelessness, hunger, sickness and all those psychological repercussions that we mark now but had little representation then – these multitudes did not indict their fellow workers nor themselves.

It was quite clear who were the Haves and who the Have Nots. The Wall Street “player” so brazenly lauded by Gordon Gekko in both film versions of Wall Street as a heroic exemplar of greed was no such hero in the New Deal days. The wealthy kept a low profile, as did the Wall Street “player.”

The “lives of the rich and famous” make their appearance in screwball comedies – Margaret Dumont’s societal “blueblood” suffering the barbs of an antic Groucho Marx – while the tough anti-heroes of the film noir are resilient and inspiring in the face of bad luck and ruthless power. The “working class heroes,” the John Does and Tom Joads, reveal on the screen not product placements and marketing implanted desires but what the audience recognizes in their own daily struggle. Struggle, anger, revenge, laconic toughness, and the darkness of these “mean streets” clash in high Hollywood style with Busby Berkeley extravagance and insouciant farce. A reckless capitalism had no estimable image while the Pecora Commission investigated and indicted Wall Street malfeasants. A real Leftist presence that threatens the “casino” order of wealth and poverty emerges not because many were being “brainwashed” but because many were defending themselves from a system that had indeed “savaged” them.

The cultural surround changes when a variety of images change, when for instance “working class heroes” and their unions become tied to the Communist Soviet Union and its socialist solidarity replacing private ownership and “free” enterprise. The “working class hero” suddenly looked like one of those Soviet working class heroes depicted in Stalinist sponsored art. That new context enabled employers to counter the Wagner Act with Taft-Hartley, legislation which passed all manner of restrictions on the right to strike, passed “right-to-work-laws” which made unions unlawful, and darkened the image of unions as corrupted either by the Mafia or the Communists. Taft-Hartley set the whole movement up for Ronald Reagan’s coup de grace in 1981 when he threatened with termination all union members who did not return to work.

That Cold War Communist tag on American unions lingers but the connection is historical and history is not a ground the new Tea Party endorsed legislators want to visit. It’s sufficient that the “Union/Communist” link echoes in the background, just as the mention of “class” echoes in the same chamber. History displays much that could explain the dire straits of workers and those who look for work in vain but “history” in the Age of Twittering in which “New” and “Now” have truly sent all our yesterdays on the dust pile is “old, over and adios.” You could say cybertech has replaced history, the repeated and rapid monitoring of Smart phones and the minute by minute updating of one’s personal history. Multi-tasking never tasks backward.

The Millennials don’t need to punch a clock or keep track of overtime and such because the new digital umbilical cords tie them 24/7 to work. Interning and apprenticing without pay and no contract for future employment are “realities” of the private sector. Retirement savings and health insurance are private responsibilities. You’ve got fifteen minutes to clear your desk and get out. This all appeals to the Millennials because what formerly wasn’t “personal” is now “personal.” Every Millennial will step up and accept the challenge of “assuming personal responsibility” for their success or failure. When you are fired, terminated, let go, canned, axed, you are liberated. You are now “free to become entrepreneurial.” In the present climate in which Millennials live – in other words, the spin zone of image and idea – the old cry of “unfair labor practices!” is a cry your sad and lame grandfather would make. It’s museum stuff.

Unions, like Nature, egalitarianism, class warfare, socialism, pensions, health benefits, job security and any representation of solidarity are “old school” and “back in the day.” Everything tied to the word “public” is a vestige of a bygone fascination with “solidarity.” The only union in the Age of Facebook is between you and your friends. Politics, economics, and history begin and end here. Solidarity is not social but a “personal” matter.

It seems at first inexplicable why the party of “Low Wages Mean More Profits to Shareholders” – the Republicans – would set their sights on unions as a first order of business as they return to power after the 2010 mid-term elections. Consider that thirty-six percent of all American workers were unionized in 1945. That has dwindled to about 12 percent today, although 36 percent of all public workers are unionized compared to about 7 percent in the private sector. An assault now on these public workers is, first of all, part of the Republican assault on the federal government, one that has been heated up by the new Tea Party legislators. It’s another assault on the word “public.”

For all these Republicans who see red when they see the word “public,” this government sector growth is enraging. It’s as enraging as “public” welfare had been in the `90s, as enraging as Medicare and Medicaid continue to be, as enraging as “public” education is today, as enraging as Social Security which is “public” only insofar as it is not “privatized.” The decrease in private sector unionization cannot be attributed to the greater magnanimity of corporate employers or the greater equity in profit distribution to workers. Neither can one argue that workers in the private sector are afforded working conditions that are so accommodating that they preempt the need for unionization. If you want to know why unionization in the private sector has fallen to almost nil you need to study the tactics of Wal-Mart which will close down stores threatening to unionize.

Much that serves workers in a beneficially equitable way also serves the public good simply because those who work for wages outnumber the entrepreneurial employers in the same proportions that worker ants outnumber the queen. Unfortunately, our cultural surround has turned from the “public” to the “private” and “personal.” And the confusion here is lethal. Capitalism seeks axiomatically to privatize all that is now public but the multitudes’ turn to the personal and private is exploited by the powerful thrust of privatization of the public sphere. The turn from society and solidarity and the public toward the personal sets many, including workers, against their own best interests. So-called “social networks” grounded in personal choice and design, can provide no defense or protection against the threat to the social mobility achieved through union efforts that led to the creation the middle class in this country There is no solidarity in a chosen network of friends that has any consequence an employer seeking to maximize profits at the expense of workers need attend to.

Globalization, in truth, will and has done much to worsen the lives of American workers whose occupations can be exported. Those occupations which cannot be exported can be unionized and thus the well-being of some part of the working force can remained fully employed at a livable wage. The UPS employees were able to successfully strike against Big Brown in 1997 because route drivers need to be here and not in Bangladesh. The same is true of all service workers as opposed to those in manufacturing and, most recently, those in telephone call services. Teachers as well as all government workers cannot be “outsourced” although cybertech may soon create viable online “teaching” that will make classroom teaching obsolete.

We have also seen how private contractors have played a large part in our Iraqi and Afghanistan wars. U.S. soldiers are workers who have seen their duties “outsourced”: “It seems that even in a war zone, soldiers are at risk of losing their jobs to outsourcing. And you’re a reservist, the situation is even more unfortunate. You are torn from your life to serve a yearlong tour of duty away from your civilian job, your friends, and family, only to end up in Afghanistan with nothing to do because your military duty was passed on to a civilian contractor.” (quoted in Hedges, Death of the Liberal Class).

The continued high level of unemployment after 2008 (and after the Dow Jones has climbed above 11,000 and Wall Street financial operatives are once again being treated to huge bonuses) is a situation that will improve only when wages reach levels competitive with third world countries, unions are no longer present to fight for wages, pension, health benefits and conditions of employment, and any sense of job security is replaced by a “flying squad” of temporary/part-time workers who can be moved, sized and let go like chess pawns.

This may seem an extreme hypothesis but I see it as a best case scenario simply because unemployment is so attractive to our present globalized technocapitalism. A labor force that is comprised of those looking for a job regardless of salary and working conditions, those already employed who cannot hope for increased salary or improved working conditions because a horde of unemployed wait in the wings, and those who have been tempered and tamed to accept the uncertainties and insecurities of on and off again employment is a labor force best attuned to the priorities of “the bottom line.” Thus, quite simply, a high rate of unemployment that perseveres so that a labor force is brought to heel is an axiomatic preference of capitalism.

This goal, or ultimate outcome of the axiomatic drive of corporate power to reduce wages to as close to zero or slavery as possible, cannot be expressed. Real solutions – among other obvious ones -- involve tackling a huge class divide and gross inequities in wealth, unionizing workers into powerful co-operative collectives, and rescinding Taft-Hartley and thus bringing the Wagner Act back to its former strength. In place of this, the new Tea Party Republicans will focus on totaling dismantling unions as well as any vestige of FDR’s “Bill of Economic Rights” extant.

Doubtlessly it is important in life to be able to distinguish the poison from the antidote but in this case what we are being pushed toward is the obliteration of what antidotes are yet left to us and an invitation to all to swallow a poison that works on the many while nourishing the very few.

In many ways the Great Recession of 2008 can be seen as a crisis too good to waste. The stage was already set for increased unemployment in the U.S. as well as for a belated recognition of the middle class that they were financially “underwater” and the only difference between them and a non-voting, discounted, already on its knees underclass was location, location, location. Foreclosure has removed that distinction. The many now believe that their reduced circumstances are attributable to that 2008 “New York City Wall Street thing,” hard now to describe, especially since President Obama has chosen not to bring the bad guys to justice or justice to the bad guys. And yet, misery and angst, hardship and panic are there.

When you have no solution that serves you, you prefer to keep the matter itself hidden. Most Americans are practicing this tactic in regard to Afghanistan, a bit of truth supported by the absence of that war as a discussable issue in the 2010 mid-term elections. One must also consider that vast numbers of unemployed people won’t just go away, though the idea is that if they are not represented, they don’t exist. Once again the bottom 40 percent of the population comes to mind. They don’t vote and no one is urging them into “Reality TV” or “Let’s Dance with a Loser.” The new contingent of Republicans anxious to attack the word “public” wherever and whenever yet feel that something must be said, if not done. Wildcat strikes can break out, street riots have happened, people who define themselves ontologically as “consumers” may go berserk if empty wallets and maxed credit cards can’t get them a fix. Given the horrendous state of the present cultural surround, wrath must be shown, fists raised, culprits identified, Tea Party enthusiasts called to arms. “Don’t retreat – Instead Reload!”

Somebody has to tighten his belt; someone has to give up the perks and the bonuses and the high life. Austerity is called for. I mean the Republican answer here is for the looted, downsized and outsourced, health insurance and pension free, the foreclosed and unemployed, the last unionist standing to learn more about what doing without is like. It sounds like the strategy of the ancien regime.

It sounds insane, surely irrational, and indigestible without a good dose of an ironic sense, but those who are unemployed and probably never employable again at their “glory days” levels, those already in austere circumstances, are being asked to find their way back to the “America That Was” by sucking up more austerity. And while doing that making sure they don’t join a union.

Are Labor Unions Done-for?

By Uri Friedman
The Altlantic Wire

State and municipal officials on both sides of the political spectrum are increasingly taking on public employees unions--promising to cut pensions, freeze salaries, and inhibit collective bargaining--to address budget shortfalls.

But the antagonism against labor unions is not limited to the public sector, or to public officials. As The New Yorker's James Surowiecki points out, a Gallup poll during the Great Depression--when unions gained newfound power--found that more than 70 percent of respondents favored unions, compared with less than 50 percent today.

Is the backlash a fleeting product of the recession, or does it signal an irreversible decline in organized labor's influence?

Great Recession Has Fundamentally Crippled Unions, argues Surowiecki. Research suggests the popularity of labor unions takes a hit when the economy is bad and and non-unionized workers look on with envy at the more generous wages and benefits commanded by unionized workers, Surowiecki concedes. But he adds that today's resentment toward unions is a new phenomenon, and stems from the decades-long decline of union membership:

Just seven per cent of private-sector workers belong to a union. The benefits that union members still get--like defined-contribution pensions or Cadillac health plans--are out of reach of most workers. And the disappearance of unions from the private sector has radically diminished the threat [to unionize] effect, meaning that unions don't raise the wages of non-union workers.

The result is that it's easier to dismiss unions as just another interest group, enjoying perks that most workers cannot get ... Labor, in other words, may be caught in a vicious cycle, becoming progressively less influential and more unpopular.

Class War Could Tear Labor Apart, declares William McGurn at The Wall Street Journal. He explains that workers in government unions and their counterparts in private-sector unions are increasingly inhabiting different worlds. Private-sector union members now frequently pay for their own health care and have defined-contribution pension plans like 401(k)s, McGurn contends, while public-sector union members "are rewarded with contracts whose pension and health-care provisions now threaten many municipalities and states with bankruptcy." Government employees are responding to this crisis by demanding "more and higher taxes," he says, "which of course makes people who have money less inclined to look to those states to make the investments that create jobs for, say, iron workers, electricians and construction workers."

Public-Sector Unions Must Compromise to Survive, submits Steven Pearlstein at The Washington Post. While they have any leverage left, Pearlstein says, government employees should accept a wage freeze in return for salary hikes once the economy recovers, request bonuses for better service or greater productivity, agree to contribute more to their health insurance policies, and replace their defined-benefit pensions with Social Security and supplemental defined-contribution plans, as in the private sector.

Blame GOP for Unionism's Decline, claims Kevin Drums at Mother Jones: "Conservatives don't like [public-sector unions] in the first place, and crippling them would also seriously cut into a major funding source for the Democratic Party ... Conservatives succeeded spectacularly over the past few decades in destroying private sector unions (and doing considerable damage to the Democratic Party in the process), and this means that most people no longer belong to a union or even know anyone who does."

What Will Replace Unions? asks Felix Salmon at Reuters:

Marxian rhetoric in general, about class or rent extraction or the balance of power between capital and labor, is treated with great suspicion by the broad mass of the population.

Meanwhile ... the people who control capital are willing and even eager to take money they would otherwise use employing middle-class Americans, and spend it on cheaper and equally productive workers abroad.

If the era of the union is over, as it seems to be, what other countervailing force will work to preserve the value of labor?

I'm Not Sure, But We Need Something, responds Mark Thoma at the Economist's View: "It's not clear what type of institution can work at an international level to restore the bargaining power workers have lost with the decline in unions, but it is clear that something like this is needed."

Sources:

• State of Unions, James Surowiecki, The New Yorker http://www.newyorker.com/talk/financial/2011/01/17/110117ta_talk_surowiecki

• Class War William McGurn, The Wall Street Journal

• Day of Reckoning, Steven Pearlstein, The Washington Post

• War Against Unions, Kevin Drum, Mother Jones

• What Replaces Unions? Felix Salmon, Reuters

• What's Next? Mark Thoma, Economist








Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Freelancers Gain Union Recognition with WGAE



by James Parks
http://blog.aflcio.org/


The Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) has brought union representation to a growing group of workers who do not fit the traditional union model: freelance writers and producers who work on nonfiction TV shows.

WGAE won two tough National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) elections covering 150 workers at ITV Studios and Atlas Media, companies that contract workers for such popular nonfiction TV shows as “Dr. G: Medical Examiner” and “The First 48.” Another election is set for workers who help create “Cash Cab” and PBS’s “History Detectives.”

Helping freelance workers join a union is becoming increasingly important in today’s economy. More than 25 percent of all workers are in temporary jobs and the number of temporary workers is going up. Freelancers want the same as do other workers: fair pay, good benefits and respectful treatment on the job, says Justin Molito, WGAE’s organizing director.

The freelance economy is being used intentionally by multinational corporations to extract the maximum profit from people’s labor, Molito says.

Because freelance workers are dispersed and employed by different companies at different times, reaching out to them requires more than a traditional organizing approach, says Molito. WGAE launched a comprehensive campaign to improve conditions throughout the industry, rather than a company by company approach. Many of WGAE’s current members are freelancers, so the union has experience in helping them form unions, he says.

Companies like ITV and Atlas hire workers on contracts for several weeks or even months at a time and expect them to work 50 hours a week or more without overtime pay, Molito says. Most do not have any benefits. They receive a W-2 tax form rather than a regular freelancer’s 1099, which makes it harder for them to purchase individual health insurance. Insurers expect workers to show a 1099, and when presented with a W-2, often say that the employer should provide insurance. Individual insurance plans have sky-high rates with little benefit, and so many freelancers are unable to pay for coverage.

So one of the first things the new union members will do is to push for enforcement of wage and hour laws, and job security and to gain benefits like health insurance. Says Molito:

This is a comprehensive campaign to raise the standards for an industry. It is important to try and make direct improvements in these workers’ lives.

Non-fiction writers and producers at Atlas Media and ITV Studios recently voted in favor of WGAE representation. Organizing writers and producers for production companies can be a difficult endeavor due to many of the jobs being freelance or temporary.

WGA-East Executive Director Lowell Peterson spoke with the Workers Independent News (WIN)  to explain how such organizing drives are unique: "In this case people are temporary at particular shops, but tend to stay in the industry, so communicating with them isn’t as difficult as it would be in some other industries."

" When we’ve done these NLRB elections we’ve won the right to have people that are not currently employed at the shop vote in the election. If you’ve worked at the shop for a certain number of weeks, sometimes a lot of weeks, prior to the election you’re eligible to vote. That’s a recognition that some people do cycle through and you might work for an ITV in January, not work for them for six months and than work for them again."

Workers Corporate America Claimed Were Impossible to Organize Win Key Union Votes

http://www.alternet.org/

Organized labor's latest victories are coming in a field where no one expected unions to make gains: freelance writers and producers in nonfiction TV.
 
The Writers Guild of America, East, has won two notoriously difficult National Labor Relations Board elections in favor of creating unions at ITV Studios and Atlas Media, companies that contract workers for popular TV shows such as "Dr. G: Medical Examiner" and "The First 48."

With another election pending, for workers who help create "Cash Cab" and PBS's "History Detectives," it appears the Guild is having success doing the impossible.

And that's a big lesson, because freelancers are a large, and growing, part of the workforce. “More than 25 percent of all working Americans are, whether they want to be or not, temporary laborers, and that number will surely rise in the coming years,” wrote Richard Greenwald for In These Times. That means that they survive from job to job, contract to contract, often with no idea where their next paycheck is coming from—and certainly no pension fund, 401K or benefits.

“The main thing we can learn from this campaign is that it can be done, freelance employees can organize, freelance employees can win benefits,” says Justin Molito, director of organizing at the Writers Guild.

Unionizing these workers has been difficult not just because of practical issues like the lack of a central workspace. “I think one of the barriers is almost mental and psychological. This is a group of workers who believed that for professionals or white-collar workers, unions are not appropriate or unions would inhibit their freedom,” says Paula Brantner, executive director of Workplace Fairness.

Freedom and fulfillment are the promises of working in a creative field like television, says a freelance producer who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal. “Because you love it, every once in a while you're willing to put in a late night -- it's a labor of love,” she notes, but when those late nights and weekends become the norm it's a different story. When workers sign a contract with companies like ITV and Atlas, they receive a weekly paycheck no matter how few or how many hours they work. A five-day week pays the same as a seven-day week, she says—despite overtime laws that would say otherwise.

Conditions at these companies can be so bad, Brantner says, that “a lot of them could be considered white-collar sweatshops, with people working insane hours, having no control over deadlines or the amount of pressure, the amount of production on a particular day.” The former freelance producer notes, “It's a very young industry, you can't sustain this lifestyle and have a family.” And yet, she points out that the lack of benefits forces workers to rely on parents or spouses for health insurance, or live in fear of illness or pregnancy.

Companies like ITV and Atlas hire workers on contracts for several months or even years at a time, and they receive a W-2 tax form rather than a regular freelancer's 1099, which makes it harder for them to purchase individual health insurance. Insurers expect workers to show a 1099, and when presented with a W-2, often say that the employer should provide insurance. Individual insurance plans have sky-high rates with little benefit, and so many freelancers are unable to pay for coverage.

“As cool as the job may be, people want those basic things that other people within the industry already have,” Molito says.

The freelance economy seems to fit into the American ethos of do-it-yourself individualism, the bootstrap mentality that John Boehner touts in teary-eyed interviews, but it has more benefits for the companies that use the workers than it does for workers themselves. “This model is no mistake. This is a model that is being executed intentionally by multinational corporations to extract the maximum profit from people's labor,” Molito says.

But as many have pointed out, keeping workers unstable and always looking out for their next paycheck has its downside, not only for the workers themselves, but for those who depend on them. “It's harder to be relaxed and creative, capable of performing your best work if you're worried about how how you're going to get by,” Brantner notes.

And so despite what Molito calls an orchestrated effort to demonize unions, the effects of which are being felt across the country, producers who have worked for several companies in nonfiction television approached the Writers Guild for help in organizing. The Guild has experience in organizing freelance workers, and found that within NLRB rules, it was possible for workers who have been employed by these subcontractors in the past to vote in the union election—making it harder for bosses to intimidate them, and creating a larger pool of potential votes.

When the workers have won their union, the next step is to push for enforcement of wage and hour laws, and job security—a top priority in the current economy. Benefits like health insurance also are on the top of the workers' wish list. “If the people who own these companies would wish to give benefits to the people that are making their profits, WGA health insurance is actually a really good deal for them,” the freelance producer points out.

She would also like for the cable networks, like Discovery Channel, SyFy and Spike, which subcontract out the work on their shows, to take some responsibility. “They need to know that the people who are making the TV that is some of the most popular television in the country don't have benefits, are afraid of hurting themselves, are working around the clock.”

In the end, victories in these fields can have ramifications far outside of a few nonfiction television companies in New York. Freelancers are concentrated in a few industries—in New York, according to the Freelancers Union, mostly in the media, entertainment and technology sectors.

Strategies for organizing freelance workers across an industry rather than company by company can be adapted and applied across a changing, atomizing, temporary workforce.

With the number of temporary workers only going up as the economy stays tentative and unemployment high, now more than ever it's worth looking at ways to improve conditions for those workers.

Says Molito, “This is a comprehensive campaign to raise the standards for an industry.”

Sarah Jaffe is a freelance writer and web manager/senior writer with GRITtv with Laura Flanders.