In Lead-Up to May Day, Picket Lines Fill New York--And AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka Stops By
Back in January of last year,I reported on victories in union elections at two companies that produce popular nonfiction TV shows. Freelance producers at ITV Studios and Atlas Media voted to join the Writers Guild of America, East, proving that it was in fact possible to organize workers who aren't classified as full-time employees.
But over a year later, Atlas Media--yes, named after Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged--has refused to work out a contract with the union. So with the support of AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka and many other local unions, the workers took to the streets outside of Atlas's headquarters as part of the "99 Pickets" solidarity actions planned as labor celebrates May Day.
Writers Guild executive director Lowell Peterson welcomed the Occupy movement's solidarity but stressed that the Atlas workers were the ones who made the action a success. "I think what happened here was that actually the nonfiction people themselves, and our members, feeling like it's time to finally make a push and get good contracts," he said.
Workers on the line carried signs riffing off "Atlas", reading "Workers Get Sick, Atlas Shrugs." They also took part in a "race to the top" for good wages, sprinting down the street and booing the competitor portraying Atlas Media. Trumka and others gave speeches (listen to the audio below) and I took the time to chat more with Peterson about the prospects for organizing freelance workers, as more and more of the jobs in the current economy become temporary, contract gigs or freelance projects. As the producers at Atlas walked the picket line, a new website, "The World's Longest Invoice," hosted by the Freelancers Union, tabulated the wages held hostage by deadbeat freelance employers.
"I think we've come up with a strategy at the NLRB, I think we've come up with a way to continue to build solidarity in the overall community, I think that's what it's going to take, so it's not just freelancer Jones with a three-month gig here and the entire weight is on her shoulders," Peterson said.
"What we hope to do is change conditions so that people can actually make a living at it, and career at it, and get better at it, and not burn out, and that'll actually benefit television too."