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Denied New York Overtime a Real Problem for Reality TV Writers, Producers

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New York, NYWhen it comes to violations pertaining to New York overtime, you can’t get any more real than those working in the reality TV industry. It’s a sector that employs a large number of individuals, and according to a survey of producers and writers recently conducted by the Writers Guild America East, a large number of them are cheated out of overtime.

The New York Daily News (11/18/13) reported in November that individuals can lose as much as $30,000 per year in unpaid wages. Considering the industry employs tens of thousands of people in New York City alone - writers, producers, associate producers and the like - the losses add up to as much as $40 million per year.

In terms of New York employment dollars, writers and producers earn, on average, about $70,000 per year. However, that amount is based on an average week adding up to the standard 40 hours, with provisions for meal breaks and rest periods - and New York overtime if an individual’s week extends beyond 40 hours, widely held as a common occurrence in the highly competitive television production industry.

The vast majority of respondents to the survey reported working in excess of 40 hours per week on a regular basis. Of the 84 percent of people who had that response, 85 percent of those report never receiving overtime pay as required by New York labor law.

Of the 315 individuals who responded, according to the New York Daily News, more than half reported putting in more than 80 hours in a week.

“I’ve known people to work upwards of 100 hours in a given week while shooting,” said David Van Taylor, a producer with experience on shows such as Intervention and Fatal Encounters.

“There’s no compensation for that additional work,” he said, in comments published in the New York Daily News.

Union officials noted that employees in traditional television do better than their counterparts in the so-called “non-fiction” sector. As an example, Royal Pains is classed as traditional television in which workers earn about $6,712 per week, according to the report. Their counterparts working on Pawn Stars, for example, are reported to earn a minimum of $2,136 per week. Pawn Stars is regularly viewed by 4.6 million TV watchers - about a million more viewers than Royal Pains - where employees make two thirds less pay, on average.

“When people watch reality shows they have no idea that some of the newer shows are totally scripted and that people writing the scripts don’t get paid much at all,” said Henriette Mantel, an Edgewater, New Jersey producer whose credits include The Osbournes and What Not to Wear.

The television industry has historically been one of long days, with so much attention placed on the final product. However, New York employment law requires meal and rest periods, and overtime compensation for hours worked beyond 40 hours in a week. There are no reports of any exemptions for the television and film industry for writers and producers.

It has been reported that Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Public Advocate-elect Letitia James are throwing their support behind an initiative by the Writer’s Guild to organize their members to pursue collective bargaining, and to stand up for their rights as New York employees.

“The networks and production companies that make millions of dollars in profits from reality-television programs must obey the wage-and-hour laws,” James said, in comments carried in the New York Daily News. Any New York employer is required to adhere to laws designed to protect workers from the kind of abuse alleged to be happening to writers and producers in the reality television industry. For them, the losses are very real, indeed.


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