Digital journalists have made headlines by embracing unions for the first time this summer, but those same unions are also successfully targeting the world of reality television.
The Writers Guild of America, East, which already has contracts with several unscripted television producers, is currently negotiating with a trio of other reality TV companies: Jane Street Entertainment, Original Media and ITV.
And WGA, East is confident that another company, the NBC-owned Peacock Productions, will be recognized by the National Labor Relations Board before the year is up.
Those companies claim some of the best-known reality programs in their portfolios. ITV, for example, produces both “Duck Dynasty” and “Pawn Stars.”
The organizing efforts, which are geared to production personnel, have been roughly five years in the making, according to WGA, East Executive Director Lowell Peterson.
“Reality TV was mostly a creature of basic cable, which itself was very low budget and non-union,” Peterson told CNNMoney. “For years, people just worked away at it and hoped that they could get out of it, frankly. This was part of the television industry that did not pay well, the hours were very long.”
It’s been a busy summer for WGA, East, which has planted its flag in the middle of the largely non-unionized digital media world.
Peterson and his team of organizers have helped journalists at Gawker, Salon and, most recently, Vice form unions. Editorial employees at The Guardian US also voted to unionize, though they organized with the News Media Guild.
Peterson said that WGA, East isn’t done working with digital media, though he declined to say who might be the next to unionize.
Digital media’s labor movement could draw parallels from the unionizing within reality TV: Each has been typified by grueling hours and paltry pay, and each was almost entirely non-union from the inception. As Peterson sees it, the unionizing is a sign of each industry’s durability.
“These are the people creating the work. At some point, in reality TV, they said, ‘This stuff is here to stay, and if I want to keep doing this work, I need a contract that protects me,” Peterson said. “And that’s the same basic dynamic in digital media: ‘This business is here to stay, this is my future, let me work with my colleagues to make it better.'”