The Writers' Guild of America West has helped a second group of reality television writers and editors to file a class-action suit to further their organizing goals and win back alleged lost wages, it
LOS ANGELES (The Hollywood Reporter) -- The Writers' Guild of America West has helped a second group of reality television writers and editors to file a class-action suit to further their organizing goals and win back alleged lost wages, it was announced Aug. 24.
This suit -- the second in an expected series -- targets Fox Broadcasting and production company Rocket Science over seven series including "Trading Spouses," "Joe Millionaire" and "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance."
Three of the 10 named plaintiffs joined union leaders Aug. 24 in Los Angeles to announce the suit, which they believe could draw retaliation from employers.
"People fear this could end your career," said Zachary Isenberg, who worked as a story assistant on "Renovate My Family" for three months in summer 2004. "I enjoy my job and want to keep doing it, but I also know there comes a certain point where you have to stand up for yourself."
Isenberg and the others claim they were forced to falsify time cards so that Fox and Rocket Science could pay them a flat weekly rate when, in fact, they worked at least 80 hours per week with no overtime and few if any meal breaks.
"The purpose of this suit is to restore to the plaintiffs and the members of the class they represent the wages they have earned and to end the companies' exploitative practices in this burgeoning and profitable sector of the Hollywood economy," according to the complaint filed Aug. 23 in Los Angeles Superior Court.
Plaintiffs' attorney Tony Segall said these practices are endemic in the reality TV industry and mirror the allegations in a similar class-action suit filed in July by a group of story producers against four production companies and ABC, CBS, WB Network and Turner Broadcasting System.
The guild is optimistic that it will win damages for alleged violations of California labor law and force the industry as a whole to recognize reality TV writers, producers and editors as a collective bargaining unit.
"We will file suits as part of an organizing campaign until the objectives of the organizing campaign are met," Segall said.
Fox and Rocket Science said they do not comment on pending litigation.
The union's campaign got under way May 7 when about 1,000 story producers signed authorization cards requesting that WGAW be their bargaining agent with production outfits. About 70 of these companies have been asked to recognize the bargaining rights of these storytellers but none has yet to agree to negotiate, guild officials said.
While none of the affected people carried the title of "writer" on these shows, the union believes they performed the same basic function by creating scenarios, engineering moments of drama and editing the raw footage into a story line.
Segall said Fox and Rocket Science are each liable in this case because they essentially co-produced the shows, which additionally include "The Next Joe Millionaire," "Seriously, Dude, I'm Gay" and "Married by America."
It is claimed that the plaintiffs were required to sign blank time cards or follow a supplied template so that the end result equaled an agreed-upon weekly rate.
Lowell Goodman, a plaintiff who worked last year as a story producer on "Trading Spouses," said he frequently worked 12 or more hours per day in a seven-day work week that rarely permitted meal breaks.
"There were standing instructions to fill out the time card according to a template given by Rocket Science," Goodman said. "I simply want to be compensated for these long hours in accordance with the law."
Another plaintiff, Victoria Dew, said last-minute changes ordered by Fox forced her and other crew members to work 15-hour days on "Renovate My Family."
"We the storytellers of reality television are no longer going to pay the price for any network's lack of planning," Dew said. "We demand to be compensated for our hard work and craftsmanship."