Shahs of Sunset Rocked by Preventable Labor Strike

Posted on Oct 6 2014 - 9:10am by Stacy Slotnick, Esq.

Shahs of Sunset

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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About the Author

Stacy Slotnick, a.k.a. The Foxy Jurist, holds a J.D., cum laude, from Touro Law Center and a B.A., summa cum laude, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst Commonwealth Honors College. Stacy is the recipient of the Honors Deans Award; Simon and Satenig Ermonian Memorial Scholarship; College of Social and Behavioral Sciences Opportunity Scholarship; and College of Humanities and Fine Arts Scholarship. She is also a William F. Field Alumni Scholar, an honor bestowed upon the most academically distinguished students. In law school, Stacy won two CALI Excellence For The Future Awards® and received an Achievement Scholarship. She is a member of the New York Bar. As an entertainment lawyer, Stacy counsels clients on contracts, branding, and public relations strategy. She negotiates with agents, producers, production companies, and lawyers to secure rights to projects on behalf of high-profile clients. Her clever, spirited, no holds barred legal analysis can be found in articles for The Huffington Post. * Facebook   * LinkedIn   * Twitter

  • Stacy Slotnick

    Hi AATT posters & fans! I have a big A-list event today and tomorrow but I am ALWAYS here for you so post your questions, thoughts, and comments about Shahs of Sunset, labor unions, and strikes, and I’ll get back to you as soon as you can say, “Reza rants.”

  • Hi Stacy. Can this be resolved? What does it mean for the future of the show?

    • Stacy Slotnick

      I hope and truly believe that this will be resolved so that season four will air shortly. Both sides have every incentive in the world to strike a deal. If Bravo elects not to offer health benefits and a pension to the crew like Mark Burnett did with Survivor by mid-October, there could be serious trouble for the series, which may find a new home at Netflix or some other on-demand internet streaming media forum.

  • This couldn’t have happened to a more deserving cast. I can’t watch this show, the characters are just too physically ugly. I have no idea what goes on on this show because it’s all I can do to flip the channel fast enough to avoid seeing their gargoyle faces. Also, on a more on topic note, it’s shameful the way that reality tv producers and editors are treated. There’s a reason we have labor laws in this country, and just because there’s a huge pool of skilled and willing prospective employees to replace those that want union representation and fair compensation doesn’t make it ok to deny them their rights.

    • Stacy Slotnick

      I agree the labor laws in this country must be followed. The crew is not asking for the sun, the moon, and the stars but rather basic healthcare benefits and pension. Is that too much to ask? Whether NBCUniversal, RSP, and Bravo thinks they can replace these workers is immaterial. The law is clearly on the side of the union and the post-production crew.