WGAE Files 'Union Busting' Complaint Against Comcast/NBCU

The Writers Guild of America East (WGAE) has filed a new Unfair Labor Practices (ULP) complaint against NBCU over Peacock Productions, saying the company was trying to "bust" the union. NBC "strongly refuted" the allegation.

WGAE, which ratified a collective bargaining agreement in January 2019 for employees of the NBCU reality programming division.

NBCU shuttered the division last month, telling Deadline: “NBC News is shifting its documentary strategy to an entirely new model, consistent with industry trends, and unfortunately the existing operation is no longer viable....We are working with affected employees to help find positions around NBCUniversal.”

But WGAE said NBC has shifted those duties to a new division, NBC News Studios, with some of the Peacock employees covered by the agreement moving to that unit but no longer covered by the agreement.

WGAE said that in January 2020, the company told WGAE that it was no longer employing writer-producers (covered by the agreement) at Peacock. The company said it would be producing nonfiction programming at another part of its NBC News operation dubbed NBC News Studios.

After WGAE said NBC did not clarify sufficiently what was going on, WGAE filed a ULP complaint last month, after which it said NBC explained that some former Peacock employees would indeed be working at NBC News Studios. The guild said Peacock leadership is simply moving to the new studio along with writer-producers, shifting production out from under the collective bargaining agreement.

That prompted the follow-on ULP complaint filed Wednesday (April 15).

“This cynical maneuver is intended to bust the union, to continue the company's years-long effort to reject its employees' decision to be part of the WGAE and to bargaining collectively on critical workplace issues," said WGAE executive director Lowell Peterson. "Freelance employees creating nonfiction programs must be covered by the WGAE collective bargaining agreement, which was the product of years of struggle by freelance writer-producers and which protects their interests and reflects real gains in employment terms and conditions.”

“We have not seen the filing yet, but based on what’s in press reports, we strongly refute what’s being alleged," said an NBC spokesperson. "We have, in writing, requested to meet several times with the WGA East, and they have not responded. We continue to welcome the opportunity to have a meaningful conversation with them.”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.