Capitol Hill got a dose of reality today at a panel featuring entertainment insiders and lawmakers who discussed the perils of the freelance economy and revealed the behind-the-scenes challenges facing professional employees like writers in nonfiction television, as well as temps, subcontractors, and freelancers in nearly every industry, who lack the protections and structures of traditional employment.
Sen. Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota and a member of three unions himself, opened the panel by noting the lack of employment protections he faced as a writer at the beginning of his career. He called attention to important provisions in the Rebuild America Act that would help protect writers and other contingent workers.
American Rights at Work and Jobs with Justice Executive Director Sarita Gupta then moderated a panel discussion with Lowell Peterson, executive director of Writers’ Guild of America East (WGAE), and Lee Ellenberg, a writer for The Late Show with David Letterman and WGAE member.
Peterson described how in nonfiction TV, despite controlling their work as a typical employer does, many studios misclassify writers as independent contractors. “The reality of freelance employment in nonfiction TV is that even creative professionals face grueling hours, no job security, no benefits, and no certainty about compensation. Writers and producers in this industry find that, joining with the WGAE, it’s possible to change those conditions, but there is a lot of work to be done.”
Ellenberg shared his personal experience of seeing industry friends looking for work every six weeks, not sure if they would ever receive health care coverage or a retirement plan. He noted how fortunate he was to be a union member, knowing that he would receive proper pay for the work that he did and basic benefits, like health care and a pension, which provide economic security.
Rounding out the discussion, Gupta connected the insights Peterson and Ellenberg shared from the nonfiction TV industry to the precarious situation workers in all types of contingent work find themselves today. She explained, “Until lawmakers are able to modernize federal labor laws, employers will continue to abuse the contingent labor model and lower job standards to the detriment of us all.”
Today’s briefing helped educate policymakers that America’s workers – from writers to housekeepers – need legislative improvements to help the 99%, not just the 1%.
There are now two very good reasons to be excited it’s November 18.
One: It’s Owen Wilson’s birthday.
Two: It’s the National Day of Action Against Wage Theft.
Across the country, corrupt employers are abusing their workers’ rights and finding ways to cheat them out of their proper salary. Wage theft is the pervasive and illegal practice of not paying workers for all of their work. Bosses try to find ways to line their pockets with their employees’ money by refusing to let them take breaks, misclassifying them as independent contractors, or even paying under the minimum wage. Read more »
Last week, we talked about how DirecTV skirts labor and tax law by misclassifying its employees as independent contractors. On Tuesday, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell signed into law legislation that will prevent construction companies from following in DirecTV’s footsteps.
Act 72, or the Construction Workplace Misclassification Act, subjects contracting companies who cheat the system by denying their workers’ rights to fines and criminal prosecution. In addition, there’s an “acting in concert” provision, punishing anyone who knowingly hires a contractor who is violating the act. Previously, attorneys could make a company repay unemployment compensation funds in cases of misclassification, but the state could not charge the employer with a criminal offense. Read more »
If you weren’t busy cheering on the gangsters of Boardwalk Empire last Sunday (like one very enthusiastic American Rights at Work blogger), perhaps you saw the newest episode of CBS’s Undercover Boss. This week’s featured company was DirecTV, a national broadcast satellite service.
In the episode, DirecTV President and CEO Mike White went undercover in his own company where he “discovered” that employees are spending their own money for requisite supplies and for equipment failures that are out of their control.
Unfortunately, that kind of disregard for employees and their rights isn’t an isolated incident at the company. DirecTV has a history of unionbusting and mistreating their workers, which Undercover Boss decided didn’t make for interesting television.
In some states, such as Georgia and Florida, DirecTV hired the notorious unionbusting firm Bell and Associates to try and prevent its workers from exercising their right to form a union with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). And across the country, the company gets around providing benefits such as overtime compensation for DirecTV installers by misclassifying them as independent contractors.
Is it any wonder why DirecTV is facing no less than six class action lawsuits from employees?