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NLRB Rules in WGAW's Favor; Dismisses NBCU Claim

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Wednesday dismissed an unfair labor practice complaint filed last year by NBC Universal Television against the Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW).

NBCU had alleged that the WGAW unlawfully pressured showrunners of top-rated NBC programs not to write original “Webisodes” intended for the Internet. The WGAW countered that it wanted showrunners of such series as The Office and Heroes to hold out until an agreement could be reached on the issue.

The NLRB’s decision does not involve a second NBCU complaint and WGAW counter-complaint referred to private arbitration, however. The network’s in-house production unit and guild are at odds over the meaning of an earlier “side-letter” agreement addressing made-for-Web fare. That is not expected to be resolved by an arbitration judge until May or June.  

NBCU may not argue with the NLRB’s decision, since its primary concern had been that the guild would pressure hyphenate producer-writers who also act in a supervisor capacity to prevent non-WGAW members from writing original Web programming. The guild argued in the proceedings that it had never done that, which is all NBCU wanted in the first place, according to network sources.

The case decided by the NLRB Wednesday arose in August. It came in response to the guild’s reaction to an NBC announcement about producing “webisodes” based on most of its primetime series.

According to the WGAW, following the announcement it had encouraged its members not to write “Webisodes” until an agreement could be reached concerning employment terms. When a number of showrunners supported the guild’s efforts, NBCU filed the unfair labor practice charges against the WGAW, alleging the union had “illegally” instructed its members to refuse to perform writing services for Web episodes.

The WGAW maintained that while its members were “eager” to perform the new work, the union “was merely insisting on negotiating fair employment terms to ensure appropriate pay, benefits, and other protections.”

The NLRB issued a formal complaint, which was tried before an administrative law judge in December. In his recently handed down ruling, Judge Gregory Z. Meyerson affirmed that “unions have a First Amendment right to communicate with their members.”

He found that the WGAW was “appealing to its showrunner hyphenate members to put forth a united front, and to refrain from performing any writing duties on the planned webisodes until such time as the union and the employers entered into a new agreement.”

The judge found “a total absence of probative evidence that the union ‘restrained or coerced’ the showrunners from acting in their capacities as representatives of the employers for the purpose of collective bargaining.” The judge recommended that the complaint against the WGAW be dismissed in its entirety.

In a statement issued Wednesday, WGAW Executive Director David Young said, “Our focus remains on reaching a fair, negotiated settlement for work in these new technology markets – to the mutual benefit of writers and the companies for which they work.” 

NBC had not issued a response at press time.