Leftfield Entertainment is the reality TV production company behind shows like “Real Housewives of New Jersey” and “Pawn Stars.” Leftield’s bosses really, really do not want their employees to unionize—as the lengthy email below will attest.
The reality television industry has become a focus of unions trying to organize one of the only segments of the TV industry that is not already widely unionized. [Disclosure: The Writers Guild of America East, the union leading the reality TV drive, is the same union Gawker Media editorial employees belong to.] It is not a coincidence that reality TV workers also report low pay and frequently unsafe and inhuman working conditions, far worse than their unionized peers in scripted television.
Leftfield is not a shoestring operation. Last year, ITV Studios bought 80% of the company for $360 million. Brent Montgomery, Leftfield’s owner, just purchased a $6.9 million condo on 72nd Street in Manhattan. Nevertheless, the company clearly does not feel that it has enough resources to support a unionized workforce. The email below, forwarded to us by a Leftfield employee, was sent out to the company’s staff this week. In it, the company brags that “WE PROVIDED” health care even before Obamacare existed; warns that the union might send a survey that looks “like a Chinese menu”; and claims that a workplace union is not necessary because the company recently put up a “suggestion box.” The email is long, but as the email says: “grab a red bull half way thru if necessary.”
Bolding in the original. Enjoy.
Leftfield’s Response to the WGA East
Mon, Sep 21, 2015 at 11:35 AM
Leftfield / Loud Team:
As some of you know there is a pending union vote at both Leftfield and Loud with the WGA East (WGAE). The process is extremely complicated and while the union does this for a living, we only found out a few short weeks ago that we were “petitioned” and we’ve had to quickly educate ourselves on the process. We’ve now done that and are prepared to state our opinion.
We apologize for the length of this e-mail, but while the union has been telling you its view for some time, we have only a few short weeks to tell you ours - so please grab a red bull half way thru if necessary.
It is vital that you vote, and our strong recommendation is that you vote NO to allowing an outside entity to help chart your career path instead of you.
We want to convey that neither Leftfield nor Loud are anti-union. We have and will continue to work with unions. We have a deep respect for the DGA and look forward to working with the WGA West, and other unions, on specific projects but we are strongly against the mission, methods and false promises of the WGA East. Many of you have come to us and asked what you can do about the “creepy and shady” nature of being “harassed” and “stalked” on personal emails, cell phone #’s that you didn’t give out and people showing up at your front doors? There is nothing legally we can do about the annoyance caused by the union but rest assured we’ll be more overt with our message and approach; we have nothing to hide and we’ll let the WGAE’s tactics speak for themselves.
One new employee who has worked at several companies around town, including one the union has taken over, said it best, “THE UNION IS PROMISING WHAT LEFTFIELD IS ALREADY OFFERING AND WANTS TO BUILD WHAT LEFTFIELD ALREADY HAS WITHOUT THEM, AND THEY HAVE NO TRACK RECORD OF DELIVERING THEIR PROMISES WHERE LEFTFIELD DOES.”
You are encouraged to have as many conversations with your direct supervisor, your boss’s boss or Brent. The door is always open and this topic is too important to all of our futures. This vote is about your future and career opportunities and therefore we want you to have the facts.
Did this industry need to improve from its early days? 1,000 percent yes! Has it been improving? Yes. Does it still need to improve more? Yes. Has it been improving without unions? Yes! Furthermore, Leftfield has a track record of being ahead of the curve on the issues that matter and a trailblazer in others. We didn’t need outsiders telling us to provide health insurance. WE PROVIDED IT long before Obama care MANDATED IT. The same was true for sick days, paid holidays, paid vacation, 401k, overtime and a new mentorship program open to everyone who works here.
Recently, we put up the suggestion box, which had great ideas and an overwhelming response, but unfortunately we cannot implement any of the suggestions. It’s vital that you know during a union election that we cannot make changes to the terms and conditions of your employment; if we did we could be accused of violating the law.
How invasive will the WGA East be in our business? When asked for a location where the vote would take place we offered up a conference room and they demanded that it be in a different conference room. The truth is no one knows what a future with the union will look like but based on their track record of promising one thing and delivering another it is clear that they have less of a vision than we do for our business and your careers. But don’t take our word for it - go ask your friends and colleagues (maybe the ones who didn’t seek you out with their personal agenda) who have worked at these other shops and see how their experience has been.
The union, like Donald Trump, can promise ANYTHING to court your vote but in its deals it has secured very little and most, if not all, is already offered here at Leftfield. They will do their old trick of sending you a survey to make it look like a Chinese menu that they can provide anything they want. That simply isn’t how it works.
Ask the WGAE to send you their contracts for the three companies it’s negotiated with and compare them to what you currently have and what you’re now being promised. We predict one of two outcomes:
1) They won’t show it to you - which should say everything as you have the right to see it
2) They will show them to you and they won’t match their promises
Leftfield has a track record of making promises and keeping them.
We preach talent and opportunity; unions often prefer tenure. Under this future, a group would be making decisions for you and your career as oppose to you. If they want you to strike down the road for a cause that may not even concern you, then you’re out of a paycheck and if you go work you will likely pass by a Giant Inflatable Rat while being called a “scab.”
Is any of the above fair? Many of you have approached us and said absolutely not and then asked, “will I be able to advance as quickly or in/out of other departments or other LFE companies?” The truth is we don’t know what the future will look like with the union.
Unions have a track record of treating groups as one and sub groups as part of bigger groups.
And while we were told that their representatives have said, “Leftfield will pay your dues” that simply isn’t how it works. You will pay initiation fees out of your bank account, dues out of your paycheck (keep in mind the minimums in the union contracts at other companies are lower than our current salaries. Also note our salaries have a track record of increasing.) It’s vital that you understand that ultimately the union will make the decisions that best fit their needs, goals and bills and often those needs will align with their highest ranking members (aka Writers) and “reality” television personnel will likely be at the bottom of their list.
We understand the halo effect and prestigious nature of the WGA West, which has remained true to its membership and we look forward to working with their writers on select projects. The fact that the WGA East has brought in casting folks and coordinators into the vote for a “writers” union speaks volumes of how desperate they are to get anyone and everyone they can to pay them dues. You don’t see this happening with the WGA West nor do you see growth opportunities for WGAE unscripted people into scripted programming.
The WGA East has seen some of it’s biggest sectors disappear (i.e. the soap operas close down shop as the budgets got too high) and now they need new members to pay them dues, even if it means making promises to groups of employees they have little experience representing.
But make no mistake, we understand that the budgets, schedules and constraints that come your way, as producers, are incredibly difficult. We want you to understand that we are fighting with these networks every single day and have made the difficult decisions to pass on projects from the networks (Oxygen’s Surviving in the City, MSGs Beginnings etc.) that we feel were underfunded or weren’t being set-up for success. It’s a difficult choice between keeping talented people employed or pushing production teams too far. We’ve also pushed back at networks on the shows that have not had the support they need and modified creative on shows like Tiny House Nation and Cutting It to secure better budgets and realistic schedules because we recognize budgets and schedules need to match the creative.
Again, we encourage you to contact your managers individually or as a group and we will do our best to answer your questions.
This is about you and your future. Each and every one of you can carve out your own career path and find your own way. That is what makes each one of you unique. Where each of you goes from here is your OWN decision. Think about that as you debate what a union will bring.
We very much appreciate you taking the time to read this and have a great week!
The Leftfield Team