Comcast Seeking to ‘Destroy’ Writers Guild, Members Say

Chip Johannessen and Patric M. Verrone say that media giant is attempting to stop its writers from joining WGA because it is “not interested in maintaining Hollywood’s union environment.”

Comcast want “to destroy” the Writers Guild of America, say WGAW board members Chip Johannessen and Patric M. Verrone.

Johannessen (pictured right) and Verrone, in a statement posted on the Guild’s website Sunday, said that the writers working for the new owners of NBC Universal need the support of the WGA in their effort to join the union.

Also read: Comcast-NBCU Deal Done: $30B Later, Comcast Is Proud Owner of the Peacock

On Dec. 14, writers for E!, Style and G4 voted to join the WGA but Comcast dismissed the action, calling the results an “invalid poll.” The company said in a statement that it would not recognize the writers’ WGA affiliation until the group goes through a formal process with the National Labor Relations Board.

Also read: Comcast Profits Up as Company Looks for NBC Primetime Turnaround

“Comcast has a history of not being supportive of union workers,” said WGA West president John Wells at the time.

Now Johannessen and Verrone have taken a much stronger and more direct tone.

Despite promises to the contrary when the government was determining whether or not to approve the merger, Comcast are, say “Futurama” producer Verrone (pictured left) and former “24” producer Johannessen, “not interested in maintaining Hollywood’s union environment.” The duo claim that what the media giant, who formally took over NBC Universal on, really is “interested in is the same kind of foot-dragging, strong-arm tactics and deceit they’ve deployed against every effort to unionize elsewhere.”

In the summer of 2009, the WGAW unsuccessfully urged the Justice Department and the FCC to reject the $30 billion dollar deal that saw the cable giant take over NBC Universal.

Attempts by TheWrap to reach Comcast and the WGA were not immediately returned.

Read Johannessen and Verrone's full statement below:

To Our Fellow Members,

“If the Writers Guild didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it.” — Legendary Hollywood executive Sid Sheinberg said that back in 1988 when he was president of Universal Studios. Mr. Sheinberg didn’t say it out of some great love of the Guild. The fact is we were on strike at the time and, if there had been some way to do without us, any self-respecting studio head would have jumped at the chance. But Mr. Sheinberg understood the role that our Guild, and all the other guilds and unions, play in this industry. A role that Universal’s latest owner, Comcast, seems not to understand.

Hollywood runs on a talented pool of what is essentially freelance labor. The guilds, every bit as much as the companies, make this talent pool possible by ensuring two things: First, that when you work, you’ll be fairly compensated. And second, that your pension and health benefits follow you from job to job. Projects and shows come and go, but fair compensation and portable benefits ensure that talented people remain. This guild-based ecosystem works to everyone’s advantage, including the companies. It makes our industry possible. Because talented people won’t follow their dreams here if, after 20 years of working, they’ve got nothing to show for it. And without the talent pool, everything dries up.

Universal’s new owners don’t get that. Despite what Comcast promised when it was under the microscope of federal merger hearings, it is now clear that they’re not interested in maintaining Hollywood’s union environment. What they’re interested in is the same kind of foot-dragging, strong-arm tactics and deceit they’ve deployed against every effort to unionize elsewhere. Comcast spokespeople dutifully recite that employees should have the freedom to choose whether to be in a union – that, after all, is the law – but official corporate policy is more frankly expressed in their anti-union training manual: “Comcast does not feel union representation is in the best interest of its employees, customers, or shareholders.” That may be what Comcast feels, but the writers of the Comcast Entertainment Group feel differently. They have signed cards, and voted, and petitioned Comcast to accept representation by the WGA. It’s time for Comcast to say yes.

Comcast is now in “the club” – that group of multinational conglomerates (CBS, Disney/ABC, Paramount, Fox, Sony, and MGM) who negotiate together. Comcast may not be there by name – it will almost certainly still speak through familiar NBC/Universal labor executives – but its mistaken approach will most certainly be felt. And its approach is to destroy the unions that, as much as the companies, make this industry work. What Comcast wants is to come in and freeload off what others have built. What it wants is to be able to take advantage of the talent pool without contributing. Comcast thinks it can pull a sleight of hand, labeling some of its writers “Comcast,” and so non-union, when across the hall there is NBC. That may be the way they built the cable company with the worst customer satisfaction ratings in America, but we can’t let it be the way they behave here. None of us can.

As WGAW members we are committed to supporting and welcoming the Comcast writers who are fighting for WGA representation. As WGAW board members, it is our obligation to rally our fellow writers to join in that support. With what’s at stake and considering the way Comcast is behaving, our task should be an easy one and we know we can count you in. Sid Sheinberg saw this industry’s need to invent our Guild; Comcast sees only a need to destroy it.

Chip Johannessen
Patric M. Verrone
Members, Board of Directors
Writers Guild of America, West