Writers Guild of America Clashes With Comcast

As if Comcast weren’t getting enough static on Capitol Hill, the cable giant may have to gut out a case of West Coast agita.

The Writers Guild of America, West, announced that writers who script programs on Comcast-owned networks E!, Style and G4 voted to have the union represent them in future contract negotiations. In a secret ballot election, certified by the Los Angeles City Council, writers on series such as The Soup, Chelsea Lately and Attack of the Show voted 46-to-1 in favor of guild representation, with as many as 18 abstentions.

Comcast was quick to dismiss the validity of Wednesday’s vote, saying that the matter should instead be taken up by the National Labor Relations Board.

“A binding election of eligible employees, overseen by the NLRB, is what is called for and is what is fair for our employees,” Comcast said in a statement. “If the WGA is truly certain of the desires of our employees, as they assert they are, then they should call for an NLRB-sanctioned election so that voting can take place and the matter can be settled in the manner prescribed by the NLRB.”

Along with the WGAW’s advocacy during contract talks, writers are also looking to secure pension and healthcare benefits and residuals.

Unionized NBC Universal writers already have thrown their support behind confreres at Comcast, signing a letter backing their request to enter negotiations with the guild. “We call on Comcast Entertainment Group to . . . immediately recognize and negotiate with the Writers Guild of America, West,” the letter read in part.

On Feb. 25, in a hearing before a House Judiciary Committee, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said CEG looked to “continue the good relations with the guilds and with the unions that NBC Universal has.”

While there’s never a good time for a labor dispute, the WGAW flare-up arrives at a particularly fraught period for Comcast, which is looking to wrap up its $30 billion acquisition of NBC Universal. The day before the writers voted in favor of WGAW representation, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders called on the Justice Department to block the Comcast-NBCU deal.

In a letter to Christine Varney, the assistant attorney general who oversees the antitrust division at the DoJ, Sanders said the deal flew in the face of the public interest. “Especially in an age of entrenched corporate power, it is easier to stop monopolistic forces before they start,” Sanders wrote, adding that the joint venture would only serve to drive up cable rates and stifle competition.

Sanders, an Independent, has been one of the most vocal and consistent opponents of the merger. Among his concerns are how the union would work to increase Comcast’s already considerable political clout.

“Comcast has demonstrated that it intends to proceed down the road of insider influence, and in the last two election cycles, it has doubled its campaign contributions,” Sanders wrote. Three of the five senators who recently wrote the Federal Communications Commission in support of the deal had received donations from the cable giant during the most recent election cycle, he added.

Comcast has always been perceived as an anti-union shop; at last count, an estimated 2 percent of the company’s entire workforce was unionized. That said, the merger has been backed by the likes of the Director’s Guild of America, the IBEW and the Teamsters.