Factual TV workers Otto Chung and Denise O’Connell give a campaign update at an industry social in Toronto. (Photo: Marta Iwanek)

A new website is giving a public face to the hundreds of professionals who are determined to secure better pay, benefits and working conditions in the unscripted TV industry.

The Fairness in Factual TV campaign that was launched six years ago by CWA Canada and its biggest local, the Canadian Media Guild, has gained both momentum and supporters in recent months.

While a $35-million class action filed in the fall against major production company Cineflix shone a spotlight on the issues, the campaign got a major boost in January when North America’s largest entertainment union came on board.

The innovative partnership with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), which represents factual/reality workers in the United States and a large majority of workers in scripted TV in Canada, brings its experience and influence to the campaign. It was formalized in May, when CWA Canada President Martin O’Hanlon and John Lewis, Canadian Director of IATSE, signed the Factual Television Joint Council Constitution.

The heightened awareness of problems in the industry has prompted ongoing informal discussions between the two unions and production companies.

Independent contractors and employees often work side by side in the factual TV industry and misclassification is common, which robs workers of their legal rights, such as overtime and vacation pay. That is the subject of the class action filed by Cavalluzzo LLP in October.

Katherine Lapointe, CWA Canada’s organizer, said “excitement is building among workers that progress is being made in the campaign,” which now has about 500 supporters.

The new website, built in collaboration with IATSE, features testimonials from people who work in the industry and outlines issues identified by workers who participated in focus groups or responded to a bargaining survey.

Lapointe said the new website makes it easier for people to share information, such as participating in a salary survey. Visitors can also choose to join the campaign or contact union representatives in complete confidence.

Other outreach has included a mixer in Toronto and a symposium at Ryerson University to connect with students entering the industry and to inform them of their rights as workers.

Lapointe said the campaign’s goal is to have union contracts covering workers in the factual / reality sector, which would put them on an equitable footing with those in the scripted industry who have regulated and fair working conditions.

IATSE brings to the partnership years of experience helping to set standards in TV and movie production; CWA Canada has years of organizing experience in the media sector and expertise in the factual / reality TV business.

Union leaders sign formal agreement re factual TV

CWA Canada President Martin O’Hanlon (right) and John Lewis, Canadian Director of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), signed the Factual Television Joint Council Constitution on May 15, formalizing a partnership to improve working conditions and unionize workers in the reality TV industry.

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