Shahs of Sunset Rocked by Preventable Labor Strike
The cast of Shahs of Sunset, who are the offspring of wealthy doctors and lawyers, will not get their season four close-ups just yet. Viewers will have to wait to see Reza Farahan, Golnesa “GG” Gharachedaghi, Asa Soltan Rahmati, Mike Shouhed, Mercedes “MJ” Javid, and new cast member Asifa Mirza engage in outrageous escapades, as the fourth season will no longer begin airing October 13 as scheduled. Who said 13 was a lucky number?
Labor disputes threaten to crash the party and spoil Reza and his fiancé Adam’s impending nuptials. Episodes of the cast – who try to balance their over-the-top Beverly Hills lifestyle with their more traditional Iranian upbringings – have been indeterminately shelved, and it all could have been averted.
Work on season four was underway when Ryan Seacrest Productions (“RSP”) denied the show’s post-production crew a union contract and then handed over production duties of Shahs to Bravo, a move that further exacerbated the problem. The crew took picket signs and struck with the support of International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (“IATSE”).
The Motion Picture Editors Guild (IATSE Local 700) sent a letter to RSP subsidiary Berne Productions on behalf of Shahs’ non-unionized team contending Bravo, an NBCUniversal-owned cable network, unlawfully retaliated against workers requesting union representation.
IATSE filed Unfair Labor Practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board against Bravo. “Within the past six months the Employer has violated the Act by dismissing all editors on the show Shahs of Sunset for engaging in protected concerted activities including trying to gain union representation,” the complaint stated.
“Bravo controls the rights to Shahs of Sunset and as a result, makes all final decisions regarding production and budgetary matters,” indicated Seacrest’s production company. I believe this dogged statement was probably made without considerable consultation and reflection from a PR crisis management firm or lawyers.
Federal law protects an employee’s right to organize, including his or her right to strike. It is a violation of the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 for an employer to retaliate in any way against employees for exercising their rights under the law. Labor laws grant workers the right to engage in certain activities (e.g., picketing, strikes, seeking injunctions, lockouts) so as to have their demands fulfilled.
Labor unions sprung from a belief that oppressed workers could achieve a measure of equity for themselves. The Shahs crew was not asking for handouts, and the quality of their work has never been called into question. Rather, they went on strike September 10 in search of a union contract in order to obtain health and pension benefits, something most of us find appropriate and which is standard in other developed countries.
Labor strikes in the entertainment industry are common, but what makes this strike atypical is that there have been no talks amongst the parties yet. Every day season four footage sits in storage in some dilapidated warehouse in Queens, Bravo loses money. Like a plane that isn’t airborne, “grounded” footage will negatively impact the network’s bottom line.
The Shahs crew will not escape this labor mess without injury: they are unable to make a living through struck work within the labor unions’ jurisdiction during the strike.
Seacrest has said Shahs is a “great” program because it promotes family and friendship. Is hiring non-union workers to replace men and women you did not want to give health benefits to the way you treat your flesh and blood?
Why Bravo will not give the post-production crew of Shahs health benefits and pensions is beyond me. The longer the strike lasts, historically the more likely the legal and PR tide will turn in favor of the union.
Strikers recently erected a giant inflatable Scabby The Rat on Wilshire Blvd. in an effort to disgrace Seacrest and his production company as well as deter advertisers and sponsors. On October 2, supporters of fired post-production editors also staged simultaneous protests outside NBCUniversal facilities in New York and Los Angeles. There is no end in sight to the strikes.
NBCUniversal, RSP, and Bravo should take a page out of Mark Burnett’s labor union playbook. Nearly two dozen Santa Monica-based post-production Survivor workers voted themselves off Mark Burnett’s Island Post Productions Inc. in August, saying no editorial work would resume on season twenty-nine until the company agreed to a union contract.
The Motion Picture Editors Guild and Mark Burnett’s company finalized an agreement, unionizing post-production staff and granting full health and pension benefits once they vote to ratify the agreement. The deal came together after less than a day of talks.
A very wise man (Albert Einstein) once asserted, “The significant problems we face cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.” The universe does not reward inaction, so I implore all parties to run – not walk – to the negotiation table and sort out this labor mess.
Attorney, Stacy Slotnick aka The Foxy Jurist will be available at 10:30 am EST to answer your questions regarding this blog.
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Stacy Slotnick, Esq. holds a J.D., cum laude, from Touro Law Center and a B.A., summa cum laude, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She performs a broad range of duties as an entertainment lawyer, including drafting and negotiating contracts; addressing and litigating trademark, copyright, and other IP issues; and directing the strategy and implementation of public relations, blogging, and social media campaigns.