I, along with 30 other talented, hardworking crew members, was fired recently from a successful, internationally popular TV show called 1000 Ways to Die. Our crime: Trying to unionize. Joining the union would allow us to have health insurance — something that is not asking for too much, especially from a hit show. It is easy to take advantage of a reality TV crew in this economy, especially for low-ball rates, by having members work 70-plus hour weeks on their feet, as they make nearly minimum wage in a non-union atmosphere. We wanted the opportunity to live the better, healthier lives which we deserve; hence we contacted unions to help us with that. “Together we are what we cannot be alone. United we stand, divided we fall.”
Reps from the Teamsters and IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) came to the set on our behalf — and that’s when we were told by executives and producers to pack up our things, turn in our walkie-talkies and go home. This was a devastating moment. Most of us had been with the show for several seasons and the set was like our second home. Throughout the years us crew members have become like family — it is not unusual to see crew give one another hugs as a genuine gesture of support; perhaps it’s because when you deal with the content of creating death all the time, it’s easy to cherish life.
The company cancelled filming that was scheduled for the following week and went into hiatus. During that time, they re-crewed with intentions to resume shooting the week after. But it was hard for the company to maintain the replacement crew, because there were people who did not want to work on a show that turned its back on the unions. Once a week of hiatus passed, they were crewed back up and tried to film. They were unable to film yet again, though, because several other crucial people walked and joined the picket line that had been set up outside the production office.
That’s when the company pulled the plug on the remaining episodes rather than talk to us. They still had to pay for the camera, grip, and lighting equipment, along with several specialized trucks that weren’t used during that week in between for the hiatus. They also paid whatever other crew that stayed on for that week to accomplish nothing. The amount of time and money the company spent fighting the unions perhaps could have been used to pay for health benefits.
With its other shows like Deadliest Catch, Ice Road Truckers and Ax Men, the company claims to represent and cater toward “working class heroes,” although it is questionable if they practice what they preach; we the workers, being truly heroic, are not being represented. The producers did not even talk with the unions before they decided to terminate us. 1000 Ways to Die is a profitable show and I strongly believe it has potential to film more episodes under a union contract.
Solidarity is a powerful tool! I thought it was touching for people, even those who weren’t in a union, to turn down jobs in this economy to show their support by not crossing our picket line. It truly shows the power of the people. I really have to hand it to Steve Dayan with the Teamsters and Vanessa Holtgrewe with IATSE for going the extra mile for us.
This has been a life-changing experience. The other day I was riding my bicycle down Sunset Boulevard and noticed Andaz Hyatt hotel workers forming a picket line. I felt a tingly sensation in my heart and decided to walk it with them to show my support. Perhaps I would not have done this before my experience with this show.
Even though production halted for the remaining episodes in the season, the dispute is not over until the company recognizes the union and all the employees that were fired are reinstated with a union contract.
This article originally appeared on The Frying Pan.