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

Many of the freelancers who create your favorite TV shows have been toiling in white-collar sweatshops.

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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.

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