Comedy writers for E! Entertainment’s “Fashion Police” turned their talents on their employer last Thursday, when they protested their wages and voiced their desire for a union contract.
Outside the E! offices at 5750 Wilshire Blvd., the writers, who are on strike, were joined by representatives of SAG-AFTRA, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 399, the Association of Flight Attendants and the Writers Guild of America (WGA), West.
Writer Bryan Cook accused E! and comedian Joan Rivers’ production company, Rugby Productions, of violating California labor laws by paying the writers for eight hours of work regardless of the time they were on the clock. He presented his grievances with “E!quations”.
“If you write jokes for eight hours three days in a row plus attend a five-hour meeting and then do re-writes for four more hours, how many hours did you work? According to E!, that is eight hours,” Cook said.
He said staffers also did not get paid for meetings, because they were considered optional. Even though “Fashion Police” is a top-rated show, the writers do not get health insurance either, Cook said, adding that E! executives wouldn’t allow that for themselves.
“It is now time for the company to stop stalling and get the ball rolling,” he said. “They have no excuse not to start negotiating with the guild for a union contract.”
Cook said he realizes that in the grand scheme of things, being a comedy writer is not as dangerous as working in a factory or a coal mine. For instance, comedy writers can’t get black lung, he said.
“But I hear E! is working on a way,” Cook added.
WGA vice president Howard Rodman spoke, saying that the union had complete support for any writers who wanted to join.
“The writers who work for ‘Fashion Police’ have a dream,” he said. “It’s a dream of being able to be paid fairly for your work. It’s a dream of being able to make a living doing what one loves.”
WGA board member Katherine Fugate said “Fashion Police” writers are being treated differently than other writers in the industry. As a writer, Fugate has access to healthcare and a pension plan, is protected by guild minimums and gets paid for overtime, she said.
“This is not about ‘Fashion Police’ writers getting more than any other writer,” Fugate said. “Joan Rivers and I are not better than they are. This is about the ‘Fashion Police’ writers getting same as every other writer. …They need and deserve our unwavering support until they receive a WGA contract.”
The lack of healthcare coverage has been a big issue for Jackie Beat, who said he recently had hip surgery that couldn’t be put off any longer. He said he held bicoastal benefits to raise money for the procedure.
“I would take a break from staring at photos of glamorous stars and couture gowns to shamelessly promote my online fundraising, which of course is a nice way of saying, ‘begging for money,’” Beat said, adding that Rivers did contribute and appeared at one of his benefits. “But even she must realize that if her writers were paid properly and/or had health insurance, no such benefits and beg-fests would have been necessary.”
He said “Fashion Police” is “just a stupid, fun show,” but it is a hit show.
“Being a part of a nothing’s-sacred, just-for-fun guilty pleasure like ‘Fashion Police’ and specifically writing for a comic legend … has been in many ways a great experience. But when the show becomes a huge hit, here and in countless foreign countries, the very people who have worked so hard to make the show what it is deserve more. …While the fans and E! demanded and received more, the very people working harder to deliver more did not.”
Holding a copy of one of Rivers’ books, writer Todd Masterson said he would be doing “a reading from the book of Joan.”
“And Joan said, ‘The head booger we chose was too expensive. The inexperienced FOX executives wanted to give the writers the title of segment producer, though the pay would be less. We had to explain that the writers guild would notice if the writers were getting $800 a week instead of $2,000.’ That’s the funny thing about the writers guild. They notice things,” he said. “And you’re right, Joan. You know what I noticed? That your writers 22 years ago we’re going to maybe make $200 more than I make now.”
In a document provided by NBCUniversal, which owns E!, television network officials stated they will negotiate with the WGA if and when the writers elect them as their representative. They said a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) administered election is a “fair and important” part of the process. According to the document, E! officials filed a petition with the NLRB a couple months ago to accelerate the process on the writers’ behalf. Had the writers participated, negotiations could be ongoing, the document states.
Officials stated that E! is not anti-WGA and has other WGA shows, such as “The Soup” and “Chelsea Lately”. Additionally, they said striking is unnecessary for the writers to garner a union contract.
According to WGA representatives, the “Fashion Police” writers have signed cards voicing their desire to be represented by the union. WGA does not require an NRLB election to represent a group, and is now looking for E! to begin negotiations.