WGA: 'Kid Nation' Crew Overworked
The Writers Guild of America is wading into the “Kid Nation” debate, with President Patric Verrone condemning the working arrangements on the much-discussed New Mexico production.
“This is a story that is incomplete, because it’s not only the kids for whom conditions were deplorable but the entire crew,” Mr. Verrone said.
After interviewing “Kid Nation” crew members, the WGA said the production staff regularly worked 14 hours a day, seven days a week—not entirely unusual for a large reality production.
“The folks who write, produce and shoot these shows were subject to illegal and unfair working conditions,” Mr. Verrone said. “They don’t get paid overtime, they violate consecutive days of work [rules], they don’t get meal breaks. We’ve been saying that for two years now. It’s unfortunate that this kind of business model is now treating kids the same way they’ve been treating adults.”
The WGA has been trying to unionize reality producers who craft show storylines on the set and during post-production. The WGA claims nonunion members on reality programs work marathon hours without health benefits or overtime pay, unlike their union counterparts.
“Kid Nation” executive producer Tom Forman defended the production, saying it employed union members—just not any from the WGA.
“We treated every member of our crew exceptionally well,” Mr. Forman said. “For union and nonunion workers alike, there were days off, there were meal breaks. The WGA wasn’t there and has no knowledge of what happened. I resent them sticking their nose in this.”
CBS declined to comment.
Unlike the young “Kid Nation” cast, the show’s crew members are employees of a California production company and therefore, argues the WGA, subject to California’s labor law, rather than New Mexico standards. The WGA contends that nonunion employees on “Kid Nation” are classified as hourly employees, yet worked a large number of hours on a fixed rate.
“The fixed weekly rate is an illegal method that prevents employees from being paid the overtime they are due,” said Tony Segall, general counsel for the WGA. “Sadly for employees, this happens on virtually every nonunion reality show, not just ‘Kid Nation.’”
The WGA is locked in negotiations with networks and studios for a new guild contract; their current pact expires Oct. 31.
Two years ago, the WGA backed two class-action lawsuits against reality show production companies for similar labor issues. A judge mandated the guild cut ties with the plaintiffs in the suits, which merged and continue to move forward.
Mr. Verrone said the conditions on the sets of reality shows have been beneficial to media conglomerates, and the “Kid Nation” affair may shine a light on what that has meant to workers.
“Hopefully it finally gets some attention to these people who have been putting up with this for a long time,” he said.
As on most reality show sets, some of the crew positions on “Nation” were covered by a guild and some were not. On Friday, one of the guilds covering the show, the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, announced it is launching an investigation into reports of abuse of children on the set. (AFTRA covers entertainment professionals such as the show’s host, but not the amateur participants.)
“We are concerned about reports of abuse arising from ‘Kid Nation,’” the guild said in a statement. “AFTRA is investigating whether the terms and conditions of the Network Code were violated in the production of ‘Kid Nation.’ We will take all legal and moral steps available to protect the rights of the performers and children on this program.”
On Monday, the Screen Actors Guild issued a statement of support for AFTRA’s investigation.
“Had the children been engaged under SAG contracts, they would have had protections including maximum daily work hours based on their age, minimum compensation, supervision and instruction on the set from qualified teachers, and 15 percent of their gross earnings placed in a blocked trust Coogan account,” the statement said.